Long horned bee Eucera longicornis

How to take fantastic pictures of bees on a smartphone

Want to know how to take great pictures of bees on a smartphone? Here are some tips we've learned from taking photos for the Great British Bee Count.
  25 Apr 2018    |      4 min

1. Technical tips for better bee photos on a smartphone

So you've spotted a bee and reached for your smartphone. What next? Don’t zoom in on a phone camera. The human hand cannot hold a phone steady enough. You’re better off taking the image on the widest setting and cropping it afterwards on your phone.

Make sure your phone camera is set to highest-quality image size.

Improve your chance of getting a good picture by setting your phone to use the "burst" function. This lets you take several pictures in succession with one click. On some phones this works by simply holding down the photo button.

If you're taking pictures of bees for the Great British Bee Count, make sure you photograph them from the side or from above to capture all the features that are useful for identification.

For many bumblebees the colour of the rear is especially important for identification.

Honey bee on flower
Credit: Thinkstock

2. Creep up on bees

Some bees seem to sense that you’re nearby. Like most insects they have a wide field of view and are very sensitive to movement.

Stay still, move slowly, don't get too close or cast your shadow – especially when they’re trying to settle on a plant.

Bees dislike and are sensitive to strong smells – so avoid wearing too much perfume or aftershave.

Tree bumblebee
Tree bumblebee
Credit: © Steven Falk

3. Best way to take a picture of a bee? Be patient

Bees will visit some plants more than others, either:

  • because the plants are more ready to give their nectar or pollen at that particular time, or
  • because they’re more accessible.

Note which plants are being visited, position yourself nearby with your camera trained on the plant – and let the bees come to you. Read our guide to bee-friendly plants.

Some plants have several flowers on a stem, spike or flower head, which will keep the bees interested. This gives you more chance of getting good shots without having to move.

Bees basking in the sun are also less inclined to move.

4. The best time to take bee photos

Bees will be out and about looking for food from the early daylight hours, if it’s not too wet or windy. They’ll be active even if it’s not sunny.

Bumblebees in particular will be active from the early daylight hours, whereas solitary bees are more active on sunny mid-afternoons.

Early bumblebee
Early bumblebee
Credit: © Sharon Lashley

5. Is a smartphone or camera best for bee photos?

Mobile phone cameras can be surprisingly good for capturing photos of small insects. But some take time to focus, then before you know it, the bee has buzzed off.

To try and remedy this, try photographing the bee from a short distance first and gradually getting closer.

If you are photographing for the Great British Bee Count this ensures you at least get a "record shot", rather than striving for that perfect photo and the bee flying away at the last second.

If you prefer to use a "proper" camera, use the macro button to get extra close-ups.

To get your digital camera photos on to the Great British Bee Count app, email your pictures to your phone, download, and then upload them to the app.