Speed

Hummingbirds are fast, and you’ve got to be quick to catch a shot. And if you want a shot of a hummingbird in flight, freeze-framed with clean, sharp wings, you’ve got to be even quicker.

Photography is about the writing of light. It’s taking the light that races through the lens and capturing it with the sensor at the back of the camera. There are three main adjustments to the amount of light that makes it to the sensor, and there’s a balance between them that needs to be struck.

The aperture is just that. It’s the hole in the lens that lets light through. Opening the aperture (the f-stop) lets more light through the lens by simply making a bigger hole. But the trade-off to opening the aperture is getting a shallower depth of field, the distance from the sensor at which things are in focus. This particular shot had the aperture wide open, and that’s why the eye of this hummingbird is in focus, but the wings and tail, further away from the camera sensor, are not. The afternoon sun was fading, and I needed as much light on the sensor as I could get.

Life is kind of like that. I find I often focus on specific details in life, but miss the context, the big picture, all the rest of life that’s going on. And I suppose there’s a time for that, but The Making Lemonade Road Tour is teaching me to see a bit differently, too. I’m learning to look a little deeper and wider, and maybe let go of some of the minutia a little bit.

The ISO, the thing we used to commonly call film speed when cameras all used film, is the speed at which the sensor can record. In the old days, we’d buy 100 for shooting portraits, 400 for all-around general use, and 1000 for shooting sports. Modern digital cameras have a lot more options, and this shot was taken at an ISO of 5000. The trade-off with using a faster ISO is noise, like static, in the shot. The higher the ISO, the more noise.

Some big changes have occurred in my life the last six months that left me confused and alone, and it got more than a bit overwhelming. And it’s been hard sometimes to really see clearly what I might learn from it all. But the noise and static is, a little at a time, clearing.

The shutter speed is just what it sounds like. It’s the length of time the shutter is open to let light through. Leaving the shutter open longer lets more light through, but if the subject is moving, a longer shutter speed will produce motion blur. The shutter was open for 1/2000 of a second for this shot. Hummingbirds beat their wings around 50 times each second.

The Making Lemonade Road Tour has been basically parked in southwest Louisiana for a few weeks now, and that’s ok. It wasn’t in my plan. I’d intended to hit Mardi Gras on the way through to someplace interesting. It turns out that I needed this. I needed to pause a bit and look around. There were things here I needed to learn, a few things I needed to teach, but I would have missed them all had I not stopped to look where I was standing.

Getting the balance right is key to getting a nice shot, depending on what you’re shooting. Shooting this hummingbird is a completely different animal than say, shooting Meghan, or even shooting a soaring Black Vulture.

I guess one of the things I’m learning on The Making Lemonade Road Tour is how to slow down and just look. My feet are starting to itch to get moving again, but I’m learning to strike a good balance.

Sometimes it’s good to just watch the sunrise and see the big, beautiful picture. And sometimes I have to take the long way home.