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  • Renée C. Byer /

    Kathy Keatley Garvey, a writer in UC Davis' entomology department, loves taking photos and has shot thousands of images of many kinds of bees.

  • Renée C. Byer /

    Bees head in for a pollen-collection mission at the UC Davis site that is friendly to bees and people who love them.

  • Kathy Keatley Garvey UC Davis This image of a bee having just stung UC Davis' Eric Mussen stirred buzz in the entomology and photography worlds.

  • Renée C. Byer /

    Honey Bee Haven at UC Davis isn't home only to many varieties of bees, wasps check out the Queen Anne's lace.

  • Allan Jones of Davis gets in close for shots at UC Davis' Honey Bee Haven.

  • Kathy Keatley Garvey / Special to The Bee

    You too can snap like Kathy Keatley Garvey. Here's an image of a male valley carpenter bee.

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Bee-sting photo was but one sweet spot for Davis photographer

Published: Saturday, Jul. 14, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 4CALIFORNIA LIFE
Last Modified: Monday, Jul. 16, 2012 - 9:48 am

She caught the sting seen around the world.

With her camera, Kathy Keatley Garvey did what she does daily – digitally capturing a bee doing what bees do. And at that moment, her camera revealed more than the eye could see.

Garvey, who works as a writer for UC Davis' entomology department, accompanied bee expert Eric Mussen as he checked hives in the campus apiary.

"He said – 'Kathy, this bee's going to sting me. Get your camera!' " she recalled. "This camera takes eight frames a second. I got four frames."

One revealed what few people had seen before – a portion of the honeybee's abdomen tethered to its stinger as it pulled away.

"Everybody was blown away by it," Garvey said. "It was totally by accident. People accused me of getting (Mussen) stung on purpose or trying to set it up. But I've never killed a bee in my life. I love bees."

Like most beekeepers, Mussen simply pulled out the stinger and kept working.

But Garvey's photo became famous, particularly in bee-centric circles. It won a national award and has been viewed thousands of times online. More important to her, it called attention to her favorite subject.

"I do whatever I can for bees," she said. "I rescue bees out of my pool. I nurse them with honey on a toothpick. If I see a bee trapped in a spiderweb, I'll try to get it out before the spider does.

"I'm a conservationist," she added. "I'm a guest in their house. I treat them with respect."

Her photographic record started relatively recently. In 2007, she was struck by a simple scene.

"I saw this gorgeous Italian honeybee drinking water on a wet board," she said. "It was just golden in the sun. I've been stoked by bees ever since."

Bees were in her blood. Her father and grandfather both kept bees in her native Washington state. In the past five years, Garvey has taken more than a million photos of bees. She often can be found in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre sanctuary adjacent to UC Davis' Laidlaw Honeybee Research Facility.

Predictably buzzing with activity, the haven has become a magnet for many kinds of bees. Garvey has photographed more than 70 species.

"Plant it and they will come," Garvey said.

With examples of dozens of bee-friendly plants, the haven also has become a great place for visitors to learn how to help bees in their own gardens.

"I love helping to grow plants that bees enjoy," said volunteer Mary Patterson, who comes to the haven Friday mornings to care for its flower beds. "This place is all about the pollinators."

Other photographers are attracted to the haven, too. They set up tripods among the buckwheat or hover over the Saint Catherine's lace, hoping for one special close-up. They all know Garvey.

"She's a tremendous resource for the university," said Allan Jones, a UC Davis retiree and longtime photographer. "A lot of people are interested in bees. Kathy has been able to reach out to them and help educate them about bees.

"And her photos are terrific," he added.

Yes, Garvey has been stung herself, usually when photographing activity around the hives.

"Bees don't like black," she said, "and cameras are usually black. I just shoot for educational purposes. Ninety percent of what I do is not on university time. I just like to do it."

Garvey captures many of her bee photos in early morning.

"Honeybees don't fly until it's 50, 55 degrees," she said. "In the early morning, they don't fly very fast. They start out groggily, slowly moving."

As a personal journal of the insect world around her, she writes a daily blog – Bug Squad. With thousands of photos, the blog has received more than 3 million hits in three years.

"I sit down every night at 8 p.m. and start writing," she said. "It's really fun. I see amazing, beautiful creatures. I can sit out in the garden for hours; just pull up a chair and wait. It replenishes the soul."


Want to take photos of bees, butterflies and other visitors to your garden? These tips come from nature photographer Rob Sheppard, courtesy of the National Wildlife Federation:

Shoot from your subject's point of view. That means getting at the same level as flowers. When you take a shot from the bee's view, you'll see more detail.

Use a tripod. It's the best way to get a sharp image and minimize movement.

Use a close-up setting. You don't need a macro lens. Many compact digital cameras have close-up settings that indeed let you get very close to your subject. An extension tube can help lenses focus on very small subjects.

Watch the light. Early morning and late afternoon usually offer the best light for photographing nature.

Look for contrast. A difference in brightness and color will help your subject matter stand out.

For more tips, click on

Debbie Arrington

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Debbie Arrington

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