UPAA Blog 2020-21 #29- 6/25/21 (photos and text by Craig Chandler)

Craig Chandler is Director of Photography for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  "I tell people I have the best job on campus," he says. He's been at UNL for 13 years and prior to that was a newspaper photojournalist at daily newspapers in Kansas, photo project coordinator at the San Antonio Express-News and was photo editor at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa, and the Omaha World-Herald. He's a graduate of Kansas State University. Craig's People and Portraits category photo "Bee All You Can Bee" was voted Best in Show in the June 2021 Monthly Image Competition. The MIC Q&A is a monthly feature on the UPAA blog to learn more about the thought and craft behind UPAA's contest-winning images.

Tech stuff? What camera, lens, exposure, lighting, gadgets, gizmos, etc.?

•Canon R5

•70-200 @200 

•1/125th at f13. 

•I used one Alien Bee (of course) 1600 as a light

How did you have an opportunity to make this photo? Planned? Self-Assigned? Something else? 

For the past eight years, I’ve photographed 100+ Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneur students displaying their passion. I photograph them against a white background a la Richard Avedon.  One student, Shelby Kittle, called me about her passion for bee keeping and her business selling honey.  I immediate thought about photographing her and her hives but then she mentioned her class would be doing BEE BEARDS during finals week.  I was super excited but then the class got rained out. 

Craig's "Richard Avedon" setup

I contacted Shelby and asked if her professor would do a special bee beard session the week after commencement.  She asked and said she would.  I showed up with camera, lights and background to discover the Professor, Dr. Judy Wu-Smart, was going to let her UNL Bee Lab research students also do beards.  I was thrilled I had eight students to photograph. It was fascinating in a creepy sort of way to watch the bees make the beard.  The hive’s queen is placed in a small wire cage about the size of a pill bottle.  A string ties the cage around the student’s neck and then the hive of bees are shaken out on a tray the student is holding.  The bees then climb up to the queen and make the beard.

Some fearless students at UNL

Any unique logistics in making the photo? What sort of post processing (or not)? 

I used a short roll of white background paper held up with stands.  Two students held onto it for Shelby’s Engler portrait since the Nebraska wind was trying to destroy it.  Only other logistic is they made me wear a beekeeper jacket and headgear.  And they told me to always check my camera gear before I change my hand’s position as I might trap a bee and it will sting.  Just normal toning on the image.

Craig (center) in protective headgear

You chose this image as one of your 5 best of the month, and UPAA chose it as the best of everyone’s best of the month…What do you think makes it stand out?

I knew this would have to be a contest entry. Beyond the thousands of bees, Mariah Robinson’s intense eyes plus the single bee that crawled up next to her eye made the photo for me.  The hardest part was debating whether to go horizontal or vertical. Fortunately, the R5 has so many pixels I could go either way. Bee beard fact: you stuff small balls of cotton in your nostrils and ears to keep them from crawling inside.  You also smear petroleum jelly around your eyes so the bees can’t get a grip and crawl up to your eyes.  I’m glad this bee didn’t get the memo.

What (if anything) would you do differently if you could re-shoot this today?

BEE better prepared. I knew with all the bees, I wouldn’t take the chance of changing lenses and trapping one inside.  So, I just went into the shoot with one camera and one lens thinking it was just the one student.  With all the other students having fun, wearing pirate gear and clowning around, I wished I had brought a second body with a wide angle.  NEXT YEAR!


"There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance." -Henry David Thoreau | This is the final MIC Q&A of 2020-21. It will return next fall. Thanks for reading!