“I tell the interns and techs that when they are taking these pictures, they are artists,” lab chief Sam Droege said via email. “We have powwows over the pictures after they are taken to discuss lighting, positioning, and the perennial problems of bad bee hair and dirty specimens.”
Droege’s team at the lab develops survey techniques, runs statistics, and creates monitoring programs to determine whether bee populations are declining. “There are likely species of bee much more threatened than honeybees. For most species we really don’t have any idea what the population status is, but for the relatively well studied bumblebees, we know that some species have crashed to the degree that we can no longer find them and may now be extinct,” Droege said.
The photos they take of bee specimens, as well as the plants and insects with which the bees interact, are used in identification guides and posters, presentations, and printed material. Their photographic techniques, based on those developed by the Army’s Institute of Public Health, require a camera with a large sensor area and a macro lens. They take multiple shots and stitch them together to make one photograph that’s entirely in focus.