Lunchtime Photo

Last month I posted a picture of a hummingbird in flight taken with my old camera. Even though I used a fast shutter speed—1/1600th of a second—the bird’s wings were blurred. This led to a comment from our resident bird guru, Steve Schafer: “The wingbeat frequency of a hovering Allen’s Hummingbird is about 60 Hz, although it’s less than that when it’s lifting off, so with a shutter speed of 1/1600, you’re seeing around 1/30 of a full beat, which looks about right. You’d need at least a factor of 10 shorter (e.g., low ambient light with a high-speed flash) to freeze the wing.” Hmmph.

Then karma struck. Last Friday I noticed that our honeybees were back, so I decided to crank up the new camera to 1/32000th of a second and see if that would freeze a honeybee’s wings. But I got lucky: While I was taking pictures of the bees, a hummingbird flew over and hovered in the same spot for a several seconds. Then I got lucky again: the camera was already set for high-speed critters, so I aimed it at the hummingbird and got it dead center. The autofocus did its job and the high-quality lens did its job. I got a burst of good shots of the hummingbird.

As it happens, the sky had gotten cloudy and I had given up on 1/32000th of a second. I had switched to 1/16000th, precisely what Steve had suggested. And sure enough, the wings were frozen. I never thought I’d get a picture like this, but modern technology made it possible. As recently as a few years ago, no camera I had ever owned had a high enough shutter speed or a quick enough autofocus or a fast enough burst mode. It would have been literally impossible to freeze a hummingbird in midair without specialized equipment. Now I can do it with a midrange, off-the-shelf consumer camera. In fact, not only can I do it, I can do it pretty easily. It’s amazing.

Here’s the Friday hummingbird:

Here’s another hummingbird from Sunday. Nice picture, too bad about the busy background.

And here’s a honeybee. A shutter speed of 1/16000th was fast enough to freeze its wings too.

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate