Tuesday, April 21, 2009

MyBrownEarth: Discovering the Secret Life of Bees

[NOTE TO MYBROWNBABY READERS: I've invited the good folks of I (HEART) FACES to critique my photos and give me constructive feedback on how I could have made my pictures even better. Specifically, I'd love to know what I could have done to make the picture of my daughter, Lila (holding the honeycomb out in front of her) more crisp. I use the standard photo editing tools on my Mac; I do not have Photoshop (though I'm working on this. Okay--have at it!)

Sometimes we go great lengths to give our kids enriching experiences—we take them to museums, put them in the front pew at church, pay hundreds of dollars for summer science and art camps, all with the hope that each moment will create memories, expand minds, and make fuller, more rounded little people. But what we don’t realize is that sometimes, the most valuable lessons are literally right outside the front door.

That’s what we found this past spring break when we visited my Dad in Virginia. My cousin, who’d just purchased the fixer-upper across the street from my Dad’s house, invited me, Nick, and the girls over to his new place to watch as two bee keepers extracted a massive bee’s nest from a back porch wall—a front row seat to check out the secret life of bees. We were standing only about a foot or so away from the action, peering through a large glass pane door overlooking the porch, and when the bee keeper pulled back that first chunk of sheetrock, we were literally shocked and amazed by what we saw: A massive honeycomb that ran both the length and width of the wall, teeming with Italian bees.

What an incredible sight to see!

The funny thing is that we look at bees as such a threat (I had my first run-in with the pointy side of a bee while I was driving; that sucker stung me right in the neck—hurt so bad I almost drove off the doggone road!), but we watched that entire extraction standing only a few feet away from hundreds of bees, and they had no interest in attacking us. They were more concerned about tending to their home—and certainly protecting their beloved queen bee.

As much as I shudder when I remember the great pain I felt from that bee sting and as scared as my girls are of getting stung, both they and I were amazed by the miracle those bees created in the wall, and impressed by the bee keepers, who very carefully took the bees, the queen, and some of the honeycomb and put them into special bee boxes, where they were going to make their new home—and lots of the sweet, sticky honey.

Later, Mari, Lila, and I got on the internet to learn more about the little miracles makers. One of my favorite stores, Anthropologie, just happened to be doing an Earth Day homage to the honey bee, and had this to say about their importance:

…these hardworking insects are responsible for pollinating more than 100 crops nationwide—or in other words, $15 billion worth of U.S. agriculture.

Sadly, in recent years, beekeepers have lost more than one-third of their bees to a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), in which bees mysteriously abandon their hives and die. Pesticides, viruses, poor nutrition and cell phone signals are often cited as culprits; however, the exact cause of CCD remains uncertain. Experts agree additional research is integral to the preservation of honey bees.

The girls and I then followed a link to helpthehoneybees.com, a site, run by Häagen-Dazs, that chronicles the plight of the honey bee, tells us exactly why we should be concerned, and gives us solid ideas for how we can help the little buggers live. The site also has a fun app that lets users create their own honey bees and email them to their friends; these are Mari and Lila’s creations.

Now, rather than run away from bees, the girls actually marvel at them. I’m not sure how I feel about this—I’m still a little scared of the damage they can do to an unsuspecting neck, but I can appreciate their importance, for sure. And I’m glad my girls got a great lesson—beautiful, informative, memorable, and free of charge!

MyBrownBaby wants to remind you that though tomorrow is officially Earth Day, it's important to celebrate our Earth and all it has to offer every day by recycling, reusing, reducing, and teaching our babies to be stewards of our beautiful planet.

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  1. Delightful - and so true. There are so many natural learning opportunities around. And the bees! Such important creatures.

  2. Now that looks like a wonderful experience! I am sure the girls will remember that for a lifetime.

  3. The opportunities to teach our kids are endless. As a homeschooling mom, I welcomed situations like what you all experienced with the bees. You are giving them a wonderful learning experience as they go through this journey called life!

  4. WOW! That looks like it was an amazing experience. I can really just see my boys knocking over a hive and setting and angry mob onto all of the innocent onlookers. Not on purpose, just on "assident" as #2 likes to say. Thanks for stopping by my place, you have an awesome and informative and inspiring (I could go on) blog here. It's a pleasure to have you:)

  5. Hey! Could you shoot me an email address at dawn (at) myhomesweethomeonline (dot) net? I'd love to invite you to an Atlanta-area bloggers picnic. Are you here in Atlanta?
    Blessings, Dawn

  6. Wow-amazing. What an opportunity for them. My son is a "wild" child and goes to a "wild" school. I would not have it any other way. :)

  7. Beautiful post. What a wonderful lesson for your girls. Honey, ain't nothing better than free education! LOL!

    BTW, Steve Harvey was supposed to be here in Augusta this week doing a book signing, but I forgot what day. Though it would be nice to meet Steve, I was hoping to meet his co-author! LOL! Maybe next time, huh?

  8. I think it's interesting when bees build hives in house walls. The stories of people finding honey running on their walls or hearing the walls hum is just interesting.

  9. Denene - I got your note on my blog and I just had to run over here to check out your photos. You should be proud of these!! You are doing wonderful! I love the one of your first little gal holding out the honeycomb. You are even achieving that "bokeh" (blurry background) look that I love. Yeah for you!

    P.S. I'm sorry I haven't been able to stop by as often. The new site is keeping me crazy busy right now. I'm looking forward to things getting easier and settling down sometime soon. I miss ya!

  10. I really love the picture of her holding the honey comb out! :-) I actually like how the focus is mostly on the honeycomb and how the background is blurry . . . but maybe (not that I know) if you wanted her to be clearer too you would have needed to adjust the depth of field? haha i actually have no idea what I'm talking about . . . but I love this post - and I really liked that movie (for the most part) . . . I like your blog and I'll be stopping by again soon!

  11. Hello! I'm Amanda and I found you via I ♥ Faces :). I love your post about natural education and teaching through real life experiences. My daughter has helped her uncle harvest honey the last two years in a row. So this is a photography subject close to my heart.

    To specifically address your question about making both the honey comb and your daughter's face in focus, Becca was correct, after a fashion.

    Depth of field is the portion of your picture that will be in focus according to what aperture you pick. Your settings on this picture are: ISO200 | 1/500 | f/4 (found via Opanda). The honeycomb is in focus and your daughter's face is not. Therefore you would need a smaller aperture (higher number) to make both the honey comb and her face in focus. Here is a link to a DOF calculator so you can see how changing the aperture changes what is in focus: www.dofmaster.com.

    I hope this helps!
    Amanda J.

  12. ETA: Go down on the left side of that page on the "Online DOF calculator." You don't need those other things, LOL!

  13. Hey Denene!

    You got great answers to your question on keeping Lila crisp and in focus just like the honeycomb.

    I personally like the shallow DOF that you ended up with. Here are some things I would have done before I even took the photo to make it even better though:

    1) If you wanted the shallow DOF (honeycomb in focus, Lila out of focus) I probably would have had her hold the honeycomb up just a bit higher. It would have really emphasized the shallow DOF you achieved.

    2) Or, I would have crouched down to take the shot from a lower level...putting the honeycomb and her face more on the same plane.

    3) I would have moved in much closer for this shot. You didn't really need much of the background "stuff" in this photo to tell the story, so I would have moved in to focus more on her and the honeycomb. This would help remove some of the distracting background elements.

    4) I don't care for it when the subject is perfectly centered in a photo (this all goes to the "rule of thirds.") Basically, a photo actually looks more balanced when the subject is slightly off center.

    Photo Editing:

    Here is my quick attempt at editing your beautiful photo. Your photo was at a really low resolution so there were some things I wasn't able to fix on it (please feel free to send me the higher res image in an email if you'd like me to play with it): http://www.flickr.com/photos/thearthurclan/3513211155/?addedcomment=1#comment72157617879030700

    1) I went through my basic photo editing process (which used Photoshop so I'm not sure if that would help you.)

    2) I added a layer and blurred it so that the background would be less distracting.

    3) I cropped it to a 5x7 size. This cropping size is really appealing to the eye.

    You are doing good girl! I really would love to work with this photo more if you have time to send me the high-res version. :)

    co-founder of iHeartFaces

  14. Hi Denene! What a great post! I love your blog. I don't have much to add to what has been said by other CCFers. The depth of field suggestions are great. Your focus is very good on the hand and honeycomb, and I agree it makes a fun shot this way! Coming in close is always a good idea. The crop closer to the top of her head and closer to the bottom of the honey comb would be good, also Angie's off-center suggestion is great.

    Her pose and expression are wonderful. I would brighten her face a little since the day was so sunny and the light is coming from her right side, leaving part of her face a bit shadowed.

    There's a bit of pink/red color cast from her sleeve reflected on her right cheek. When you get Photoshop, you'll be able to quickly learn how to correct things like that. It's not a big deal in your photo, though.

    Lila is a beautiful girl, and I enjoyed your photo! Thank you!

  15. You are so brave. I seriously got panicked just reading about you getting stung while driving!


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