By AG Staff

September 19, 2023

This forms part of a Q&A series with the winning photographers of the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year awards.

Dan Jones has been crowned winner of the Macro category in the 2023 Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year (AGNPOTY) competition.

His winning photo titled “Nectar of Life”, It is from Dawson’s burrowing bee (Amigella Dawsonie) sipping nectar from a local bluebell flower against the backdrop of the Kennedy Range in Western Australia.

Can you tell us the back story to this photo?

I was first introduced to these bees from David Attenborough’s 2009 series. I was struck by the beauty of the landscape and the unusual behavior of the bees. It was also interesting to see Attenborough covering parts of my backyard. As my interest and skills in macro photography grew, so did my idea of ​​taking a dedicated trip to capture a group of shots I had in mind.

What is your connection to the topic?

Large-scale photography is one of my great passions, and native bees are among my favorite subjects. They have beautiful colors and details, exhibit interesting behaviors, and contribute greatly to the ecosystem – if only they didn’t fly away 90% of the time when I approach them with my camera.

Where was it taken, and what brought you to this location?

Photo taken at Kennedy Range, Washington. It started as a wild online chase. I wanted to film these bees in the same location as the documentary, so I could include parts of the group in the background. By comparing images from the documentary with images I found online from different places within the bee’s range, I eventually came to a conclusion that I could confirm with a satellite image.

Were you there unexpectedly or did you plan to cover this moment?

I specifically planned a 5-day camping trip to observe and photograph these bees.

Photographer Dan Jones. Image credit: Provided by Dan Jones

What are the technical challenges of filming this type of scene?

My goal was to capture a feeding/pollination shot with the banding in the background. This presented some challenges. I had to search through several bee forage plants to find a flower that ticked several boxes. They must be at the proper height and angle for scopes, provide an unobstructed view, and be in good condition.

Unfortunately, upon arrival, the country was very dry, and most of the flowers appeared to be in full bloom. While some fresh flowers were present, they were often not in ideal locations.

I eventually settled on a particular flower and spent several 15-minute sessions over two days waiting and photographing. I originally tried using a monopod to make it easier on my arms but it was too clumsy. The problem was that some bees would sip nectar in flight, while others would land on the flower with their full weight, causing a wide degree of vertical movement that made it difficult to frame shots consistently with a monopod. I then ended up shooting handheld for several sessions, although most of the shots were disappointing due to the difficulty of capturing a well-framed, well-timed image with such a shallow depth of field.

Fortunately, one shot turned out well, and it was a surprise to review it in the viewfinder and see the bee’s tongue fully extended, in focus, and with perfect timing.

How did you prepare to take this photo?

I’ve spent a lot of time photographing bees in the past, so I felt fairly prepared to take this trip. I spent the first day observing bees and their behavior, which led to some insights I couldn’t find anywhere else.

Did you have special equipment?

No, I used a fairly standard macro setup. The only notable piece of equipment was a diffuser that a good friend of mine had made for me. It does an excellent job of blending artificial light with natural light.

Have you covered this topic/topic before?

No, this was my first time photographing these amazing bees.

Why is this type of photography important to you?

Macro photography is incredible. It allows you to capture people’s imagination with details that are not normally visible. Through this, you can connect more closely with nature and the people around you.

Any additional ideas?

These bees are among the largest in Australia and arguably one of the most adorable too. They can form large nesting groups, creating thousands of burrows in mud ponds in Washington’s Gascoyne region. Unfortunately, this behavior leads to confusion between dirt roads and prime nesting sites, endangering bees and their larvae. I hope that with increased awareness and strategies, we can ensure a bright future for this iconic remote species.

Related: Winners: Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year 2023

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