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Bee on Buckwheat

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Behind The Lens


This photo was taken in the chaparral at Mission Trails Regional Park, near San Diego, CA. The California Buckwheat was in bloom all over the mountains and the bees were taking full advantage. The wildflowers in the park are like nowhere else on earth and the biodiversity is incredible.


Some of the best times for catching bees in the park are late morning or early afternoon when the heat starts to burn off the mist and dew that comes in from the ocean. As the park heats up in the day, the smell changes. Bushes full of fragrant flowers fill the air with an intoxicating potpourri or earthy, sweet, and soft fragrances. As I lay in the brush, looking up at the flowering California Buckwheat next to me, I took deep intoxicating breaths in between shots.


The sun can be intense in the park, especially as spring turns to summer. Soft shades turn sharp and whites can blast out. I've found that looking for the right angle or going deeper into the brush can help naturally shade or soften the subjects. I do carry shade blocks, but don't need them often in the park.


In the desert or out in the field, it's usually just me and my camera. I have my trusty red Nikon D3200 (named Big Red) with the standard 18-55mm lens and a few filters including a magnifier and a polarizing lens. I always shoot by hand (no tripod) to follow the movement of the bees or look for the right angle to catch them doing something amazing. Working in the desert I also take a garden sitting pad to protect me from the rock and cactus on the ground (I lay down to shoot a lot) and a pair of grabbers that help move plants and fend off rattlesnakes.


The world is full of incredible scenes like this. THey're under our feet or along our roads almost everywhere. For me, photography is a chance to practice total mindfulness by focusing on the moment and what I see that no one else does. Tiny plants, incredibly small insects, micro-blooms in a crack in the sidewalk, so much goes unnoticed. My pictures are an attempt to share those unseen moments, like the work of wild bees, climbing a cluster of pearl white and radiant fuchsia wildflowers.


I only used minimal processing on this one to take down the bright sun of midday and crop in the subject a bit. I always play around with different looks in the post-processing, but this one was pretty good the way it was shot.

In my camera bag

Because I go out into the rough desert and mountains quite a bit, most of the stuff in my bag is for hiking, but I never leave home without an extra memory card, cleaning kit, several filters with varying magnification, a portable reflective baffle, and my garden pad. I've captured a lot of shots laying on the ground (like the one above) and having the little foam pad offers just enough protection to keep the cactus needles out of my backside.


Go for a hike and follow your nose. If you catch a sweet or interesting fragrance that crosses your path, follow it. That's the call for other creatures and it gives you a better chance of finding bees, wasps, butterflies, and more. If you can't smell anything, walk for a while and then just sit. Look around. Chances are there will be something gorgeous or mind-blowingly interested right next to you.

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