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.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest