Never have I had my knees knocked this much while shooting. I could almost hear them but my heartbeat was trying to overpower the sound of my panting so my knees didn’t have a chance.
The hive was small, or it seemed to be (no pun intended). The hole in the tree was less than 4-fingers wide and the tree looked healthy. So, unless it was hollow and faking vitality, there couldn’t have been THAT much room inside. No more than a few hundred bees, maybe a thousand max. I couldn’t see the bottom of the hole without using the flash and I wasn’t about to use a flash while playing ‘gonzo photographer’ and seeing how close I could put my hand to the hive opening. I did take a few flash shots a little later but I was ready to run since the instructions for the camera said don’t shoot into the subjects’ eyes; also, the heat might be dangerous. I don’t know where I planned to run to but that was the plan, anyway. I pays not to examine a plan too closely when you already know the plan sucks.
I was on my way back to the van when I saw the lone bee on the tree and decided to see if I could do as well as Trudi does with bee macros. I was able to get the camera too close to focus so I rattled off a couple dozen shots before I noticed there were a few more bees around. Then I noticed there were a LOT more bees around. I looked around the side of the tree and decided the word “lot” was a bit underwhelming for the magnitude of stingers I was seeing so I backed away at about 25 miles per hour and tried to stop ‘backing away’ within a couple hundred feet or so.
Damn. Face to face with a swarm of bees was NOT what I was expecting when I went up to shoot a lone bee that was probably dying anyway. Well, your gonzo photographer wasn’t about to let fear OR common sense make him miss The Shot so I went back boldly and reassessed the situation. Yes, there were a lot of bees about but it seemed manageable. Besides, animals dig me and I’m not afraid of bees. (Bees are insects and being unafraid of ONE bee is not the same as being terrified of a hive of bees but let’s not quibble over minor issues.) I was committed to go back and shoot. I was also committed to go back and get my camera bag from under the hive where I left it in somewhat of a rush for my life.
First few attempts to lurk around the side of the tree failed because there was a hump of bark I couldn’t see and it was blocking the camera’s angle. Then I realized that most of the bees were coming and going the direction my hand was held and it was getting peppered with bee bumps, each of which spoiled my aim yanking my hand back. So I tried a frontal approach and got within about 6 feet before I was too scared to move closer. Even with the 55-200 lens, that wasn’t close enough to qualify as true ‘gonzo’.
It took a bit but I could finally tell that almost none of the bees were coming from the left side of the hole and few were coming back that way. I sucked up my courage and went around the tree to approach from the left side and realized I missed the hive when shooting the single bee because my hearing is gone in my right ear – the one closest to the tree. From the left side however, hearing a beehive was a damned sight easier and it was just like the movies: one loud drone that got louder at times.. But nobody has ever been killed by a drone (unless it was the one coming from your math teacher before you flunked algebra and your mom promised to end your life). From this approach, I was able to see what I couldn’t see from the other side too: I had been sticking my hand almost in the hole. No wonder it was getting in the way of the bees not expecting it! That actually made the next part easier because it couldn’t be as stupid as reaching at a beehive blindly was.
On my knees because of the hole was low, I crawled around the tree, ignoring the noise both inside and outside of my chest, and got about 2 feet of the hole when being peppered by the bees in the back of my head got unnerving and I decided closer wasn’t gonna happen. I was shaking so badly I upped the vibration reduction on the Panasonic to the highest level and slid my left hand along the bark of the tree towards the hole. I got about 3 inches away before I started to panic and just went for whatever I could shoot with my right hand. Here was one of those shots.
Backing away from the hive proved to be the scary part because something went down the inside back of my sweatshirt, against my skin. I froze. It didn’t. Not good. I set the camera down and tried to pull my sweatshirt away from my back (I wasn’t wearing anything under it) and hoped my belt was tight when it fell down, if it did. I assumed it did because I never felt that crawling sensation again – until driving about 20 minutes and 10 miles. Well, getting ONE bee sting wasn’t going to be all that bad so I reached back there and…
…removed the lone ladybug, very much alive, if not a bit sweaty from my back. It took off for a new life and I started feeling like I’m the most gonzo photographer on the planet. :-D
No, I’m not Steve Irvin with a camera. Steve knew what he was doing. I just wanna get The Shot.