We know a bee as that insect that flies, buzzes, pollenates, makes honey, lives in a hive, and stings when provoked, but did you know there are thousands of bee species just in North America alone? That diversity requires documentation, which is the job of Sam Droege, who is the head of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory in Maryland. Droege has been photographing bees – insects that are crucial to the ecosystem – for the last seven years as part of the creation of an online reference system for researchers to help identify each species. While the stunning high-res photos are for scientific purposes, they also look like works of art, which were recently featured on Flickr’s blog.
Initially, Droege couldn’t achieve great success using standard microscopes. “We were taking pictures of bees through microscopes,” Droege said. “We literally attached cameras to microscopes, often with plumbing fixtures. But in the end, we were disappointed with the number of pixels and the amount of resolution of the photos. After a while, we largely stopped pictures through microscopes because the quality wasn’t up to our standards.”
But thanks to a macro photography technique used by the U.S. Army, which had been taking photos of insect infestations from foreign bases, Droege was able to achieve the photos you see here. The technique requires several shots of a dead bee and combine them using special software, which creates large detailed images of the bee without pixelation.
“When we started looking at these pictures, I just wanted to gaze at these shots for long periods of time,” Sam says. “I had seen these insects for many years, but the level of detail was incredible. The fact that everything was focused, the beauty and the arrangement of the insects themselves – the ratios of the eyes, the golden means, the french curves of the body, and the colors that would slide very naturally from one shade to another were just beautiful! It was the kind of thing that we could not achieve at the highest level of art.”
After showing them to colleagues, Droege was encouraged to share these stunning photos via Flickr. You can check out the Flickr photostream here.