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.

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And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

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