Introduction: High Speed Flash Photography

Picture of High Speed Flash Photography

This is a picture of a screw driver mid bounce.
After reading about high speed photography in a magazine I was inspired to dig through my closet and see what I could come up with. I used a home made make-screen to trigger the flash while my digital camera was waiting with the shutter wide open.
It looks like I just stuck the screwdriver into the carpet, but I dropped it onto the makescreen. The second picture is of an airsoft pellet going through the makescreen.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Picture of Tools and Materials

Disposable camera
wax paper
aluminum foil (Thinner the better)
momentary switch
alligator leads

soldering iron
wire strippers
clothes iron
ironing board
screw driver
airsoft gun (at least thats what I used)

The great thing about this project is the low costs involved. I went to a photo finishing place and asked if they would give me the leftovers and they happily gave me three.

I wanted the thinest aluminum foil available, so I picked up the foil and the wax paper at the dollar store.

Step 2: Carefully Disassemble the Camera

Picture of Carefully Disassemble the Camera

Peel off the stickers and use the screwdriver to gently open the tabs on the camera.
Once you get the back off, take the battery out.

carefully pry out the film holder assembly. the flash circuit will come out with it.
Use an insulated screwdriver to short the capacitor by touching both leads with the blade of the tool. You know it worked when it sparks and pops at you. do it until it stops sparking. IF YOU DON'T DO THIS YOU RUN THE RISKS OF GETTING SHOCKED BY OVER 300 VOLTS.

Step 3: External Reset and Trigger

Picture of External Reset and Trigger

You can now remove the circuit board from the film cartridge by unhooking a small spring on above the lens assembly.

On the first camera that I modified I had to manually reset the flash after each shot. I wired up and external switch to make it easier by following the traces on the circuit board and soldering in a switch. The second camera I modified automatically recharged the flash, so a switch wasn't necessary.

To trigger the flash, you connect the two irregularly shaped metal attachments on the side of the board where the alligator clips are shown. Once you've gutted the electronics of the camera it's fun to test it by putting a battery in and shorting the two metal peices with a screw driver or bit of wire, just be very careful of the high voltages involved.

After this picture was taken, I soldered permanent wires to the trigger

Step 4: Making the Makescreens

Picture of Making the Makescreens

A makescreen is nothing more than a really simple switch. Two pieces of foil and a sheet of wax paper is all you need.

I tried to find the thinest aluminum foil around by finding the cheapest. The wax paper shouldn't be the really thin kind found at deli's and butcher shops, but the kind you can actually see the sheen of the wax on the paper.

1) Rip two sheets of aluminum foil I used about eight or nine inches off the roll.

2) Rip off a piece of wax paper thats longer than the lauminum foil. I used about ten inches.

3) Layer the wax paper between the foil stagering the layers so that none of the foil touches. I left a good 1/4" to 1/2" border.

4) Using a clothes iron on high with no steam gently iron the sandwich together. It only takes a few seconds.

5) Sit back and admire the completed makescreen.

Step 5: Putting It All Together

Picture of Putting It All Together

To use the makescreen you use the aligator clips to attach one sheet of foil to one of the oddly shaped metal bits (sorry about the technical jargon) in the camera and the other piece of foil to the other oddly shapped metal bit. This will be easy if you've already soldered leads with alligator clips on them. Make sure you don't let the aligator clips touch both peices of foil or the system won't work.

I used my Kodak Digital Camera. It's certainly not the latest greatest camera on the market as I've had it for a few years now. I put the camera into manual mode and adjusted the shutter time to 1 second. I charged the flash, pressed the camera shutter button and droped the screwdriver on the make screen sitting on carpet. I wish I could say that I got a great picture on the first try but it took some practice to get the timing right.

I was able to reuse the makescreens several times before they were permanently shorted.

The room has to be fairly dark inorder for the picture to come out right. This shot was taken under my desk with the blinds closed and the lights off.

Step 6: Ballistic Setup

Picture of Ballistic Setup

I taped the makescreen to a cardboard box and shot at it with my airsoft gun. this photograph shows the plastic pellet hitting the screen. According to the airsoft manufacturer, the pellet is moving at over 100 ft/second.


Default117 (author)2010-04-05

I've shocked myself with one of those, decided I didn't want to be shocked again and shorted it out with a screw driver. Scared the crap outta me! Ever since then, whenever I get surprised it feels like a nine-volt on my tongue.

alextricity (author)2009-03-19

I play with power lines (a 100 KW equivalent) :D

tanmanknex (author)2009-03-07

If you go to Wal-Mart then they give you a big bag with about 10-15 used disposable cameras, FYI.

Thermionic (author)2007-05-26

For those at the top arguing about 300 volts and it's level of killitude. Current kills, not voltage. Static from a door knob can be anywhere from 20, to over 100,000 volts. The current is infinite, but since the discharge is instantaneous, You barely feel it. The capacitor on this camera is 300 volts ( or in that neighborhood if you actually test them) If you put your finget across that, you'll probably get a little burn. BUT if you were to put one finger from each hand on each lead, your heart is now directly in the path of current flow. Which can cause arrhythmia, or deadness. I am by ne means arguing with Vendigroth, people have survived lightning strikes with very little ill after effect, but those folks were the exception rather than the rule. People more often get hit and are either severely impaired physiologically, or severely impaired being alivealogically. Is this camera gonna kill you, probably not. CAN it kill you? most certainly.

2 problems though the metal isn't exactly helping the case in saving you from the lightning, it has to be shoulder to shoulder for the cap idea, however having recently been changing lightbulbs and gotten electrocuted again I can safely say 240VAC at 50hz (UK mains) can't kill you (I don't know the currents though) but you can light a bulb with one hand, in fact it may have saved my life, as it would have hit me across the chest for the second time in a month. In any risk of electrocution I suggest you remove your non electrocutable hand off the ground as that way your less like to get dead and as for the caps through the hands, well it's dumb to deliberately get shocked or allow your self to be but hey aint deadlylong as its one hand

240 volt UK mains can easily kill you as its currents are around about 13 amps that is certainly enough to kill you. My dad has been shocked many times by 240 volts but luckily hasn't been killed, however, these were some very lucky cases where the current didn't go across his heart. If that happened he would almost certainly been killed.

The main thing I have trouble understanding is the fact that a tiny voltage hand to hand (as in across the chest) could kill people but some people get away with it... I've been hit hand to hand a few times and nought's happened to me...

Yes, some people are very lucky that they don't get killed by getting electrocuted.

Derin (author)jinventive2008-10-06

like me,got shocked 3 times and im 10

shaunak (author)jinventive2008-02-04

If you have over 0.1A flowing through your heart, your heart goes into something called "fibrillosis" [please corrct my spelling]. What basically happens is the bodies natural pacemaker is also giving out tiny current pulses to "clock" your heart. If an external "clocking" pulse is applied, it misses a clock cycle and you get an cardiac arrest. [Quite a low margin for error that ;)] Here's why you survive those small shocks: The torso's internal resistance is widely accepted to be 10Kohms, but the path across you skin is has much lower resistance. 800ohms when wet [with sweat] So much of the current never actually flows though you heart. But if it has no other path, ie you connect your heart in series, well then your sorta dead.

-Aj- (author)shaunak2008-04-21

yes! jumper leads across youre nipples should do it!

shaunak (author)-Aj-2008-04-23


shaunak (author)shaunak2008-02-04

Please forgive my spellings and blank links on the post above. I was in a terrible hurry and didnt know that enclosing in square brackets caused text to be auomatically hyperlinked.

ramses (author)killerjackalope2008-01-03

since we are sharing about getting shocked, i got shocked by 4 of these capacitors in the same finger. i felt it all the way to my bicep (or lack of). it hurt like a MOFO (mother f*cker). it aint deadly but it still sucks! if you like pain, you have some kind of problem, please see a profesional. (i don't count lol)

killerjackalope (author)ramses2008-01-03

I never got the idea of hurting yourself deliberately but I like taking risks with painful gambles, a completely different philosophy but if you do a similar thing with no risk just getting hurt then you never fail...

-Aj- (author)killerjackalope2008-04-21

try copping an electric fence you your ear, a cattle one. feel like a fking sledge hammer.

killerjackalope (author)-Aj-2008-04-22

I sat on one for like five minutes and then my leg touched wires, I fell off and got my hand shocked aswell...

ramses (author)killerjackalope2008-01-06

sorry if i got upset, but it should be noted that your first mistake could be your last. the point is that even if something doesn't kill you, it isn't good! that could have killed me if i touched it with my other hand. also, current kills, not voltage. 1ma- "tingily" 5ma - "ow" 10ma- "$h*7!" (no longer safe) 30ma dc - "I can't let go" and "$h*7!!!" subjecting yourself to pain isn't cool!

killerjackalope (author)ramses2008-01-06

I was agreeing but saying there's fun in risks, mostly with physical and mechanical things like 'how fast can I really go' thoughts or those electric shock games, but that's a competition (which I win quite often...) I have the don't let go mentality when being competetive. Though this kind of list works well for drinking, which isn't much different... Tingly Wow Shit (I fell over) Cant let go of the handrail and shit lol I see people drink themselves to death in the same way that people have the shock games that are just hurting yourself (even saw them combined)

phinch (author)Thermionic2008-01-14

I have to argue with you on two points. the claim of infinite current, and instantaneous discharge not doing any damage. Both of these statements are false. the reason a static discharge doesn't kill you is the low current.

Thermionic (author)phinch2008-02-03

Wrong, the static charge is infinite in current, the amount in reserve, in a particular static field is what determines killability. If you just want to use the term static(not moving) then the air around a turbine at an hydroelectric facility is perfectly safe. The static on a doorknob, is of such a small magnitude, and the field so small, that it discharges instantly. Since it has no natural resistance, the current is infinite for the microsecond it flows.

phinch (author)Thermionic2008-02-10

There is no such thing as no natural resistance or instantanious discharge. Only if you have ideal conductors and the luxury of freezing time can you prove your theory. Ohms law is still valid on the microsecond, nanosecond and picosecond time range. it's also valid on the micro, nano and pico ohm scale as well.

I know that wikipedia is weak sauce as a reference but according to

"The feeling of a static electric shock is caused by the stimulation of nerves as the neutralizing current flows through the human body. Due to the ubiquitous presence of water in places inhabited by people, the accumulated charge is generally not enough to cause a dangerously high current."

I am interested to see documentation backing your argument.

Thermionic (author)phinch2008-02-11

you know what, you win, I'm wrong, I have no further interest in engaging in this debate. thanks

homebowyerboy (author)2008-08-12

Just be carefull cause it does bloody hurt, though not as much as 37 of them in series, that feels like bloody hell! (Trust me, i know from experience)

-Aj- (author)2008-04-21

AH, so thats how you do high speed photography, i was wondering why bright super quick flashes where important. so you leave the shutter open in very dark conditions then have a quick, bright flash. cool.
thanks for the instructable.

mains power will kill you good. you may have been lucky and standing on a chair or something so you where not grounded and the leakage through air was enough to light the bulb.
you can get small screwdrivers used for testing mains for power. it has a neon light in it, and a big ass resistor. you put your finger on the back end of the screwdriver and put it into the wall socket. you do not get hurt because of the very low power.

while it is current that kills you, you need the voltage to break down the resistance for it to be able to do that. so 12v @ 100A will not kill you as your bodies resistance is too high to allow that kind of current to flow at that voltage.
V = IR if your skin resistance is 10k ohm. then 12 = 10000R
R = 12/ 10000
= .12 mA
enough to give you a tingle
however once the resistance has been broken down then the more current will flow, which is why if you hold a 12v plug pack connector to your chin it will slowly start tingling then get more and more.
so you cant have the high current unless the voltage is there, as the body isnt a particularly good conductor. (also if your in a bathtub and drop a hairdrier in, you are safe unless you are touching the taps or the drain.) for same reason :D

Spokehedz (author)-Aj-2008-08-12

I don't see one mention of mains electricity mentioned in this article other than what you mentioned. The cap in there is big enough to give you a shock but not enough to kill you. Been zapped by these many times--made one of them into the spark generator for my Potato Gun, as a matter-of-fact.

S1L3N7 SWAT (author)2008-04-10

Awesome, this would be a good way to make a chronograph! I was thinking the other day of how to make a simple chrono using to sheets of paper spaced exactly 1ft apart and secured in a frame of some sorts. Then take a cheap stop watch and rewire the buttons for the start and stop to the paper. I was thinking of taping a piece of alluminum foil to the paper, just a small piece like 1in by 1in and place the "trigger" leads near it. When you shoot the first piece of paper it moved it just enough to trigger the start and when it exits the second it triggers the stop. Look at the time it took to travel 1ft, then do the math.

That Hurt This Time (author)2007-04-08

Cmon, 300 volts? Static electricity shocks you at around 12000 volts. Its not the volts that kill you, its the amps anyway. I think the highest voltage that someon has been shocked at is around 300000 volts.

lightning's been known to leave survivors in one piece, able to move and speak and still technically alive. Actually, the best defense (actually, no, you're just as likely to get hit) against a lightning bolt is to wear a gold necklace. All the energy from the strike goes into boiling the gold away, not blowing you to cinders, OTOH, you get a necklace-shaped scar.

lasersage (author)Vendigroth2008-01-31

It would only go into the necklace if that was the easiest path to ground. Electricity is lazy, always looking for the path of least resistance. Admittedly some may flow through the very nicely conducting gold, but chances are, that it is not grounded and you are. Hence you're going to get most of the shock . As for peoples previous comments, it is indeed true that current is the killer. People percieve that low voltages and DC are safer. This is WRONG! AC often causes a spasm, whereas DC often causes you to lock you muscles (unable to let go). 1V will kill you if you make a suitably good contact (low resistance, hence high current). The real danger with high voltage is that it can penetrate your skin. This is why low voltage is often considered "safe".

Vulcanator (author)Vendigroth2007-12-11

my friend was struck by lightning... in a lake

i took apart a digital camera and got shocked by it. My friend took apart a digital camera and ha as 2 spots on his finger where he shorted the cap I can tell you it bloody hurts He can tell you it bloody hurts That is why you short the cap.

mbainrot (author)2008-01-13

With the electrocutions,
@240vac 50Hz (Australia)
30mA to 50mA = heart stopping, POSSIBLE REVIVAL (no guarantees)
100mA + = toasted central nervous system = dead, i.e no revival
Thats what i learned anyway...

As with the instructable SWEET :P

What i did with my rig was cut a hole in a box and sticky taped the foil to the box, then sticky taped the wire to the box.

My flash is an external flash (slave)

See the pic for my results, (took me several tries to get to that photo)

phinch (author)mbainrot2008-01-14

very awesome. What projectile did you use?

mbainrot (author)phinch2008-01-31

Its an "Air Blasters" dart (that looks like a nurf dart), i re did the photo so bellow is a more recent/more refined picture :D ~~ Enjoy ~~

dajjhman (author)2007-11-02

On the matter of freaking lightning and electrical shocks. First: it takes only 20mA to stop your heart. Second: in order for it to stop your heart, their just has to be a possible path including it (hand to hand; head to toe; hand to opposite wait etc etc...) Third: the gold necklace is a myth, and a dangerous one too. The necklace cannot provide a ground for the current, so electricity wont even flow through it! Which leads me to #4 Current likes to flow from an area of charge, to an area of no or opposite charge...I work with 50,000 Volts on a daily basis and I can say even if it is not the opposite electrode that you are connected to, it is still likely to zap through you [think of it as water, you have a box filled, suddenly connected to a box that is empty by a pipe on the bottom; naturally it evens out the amount of water]

-insertnamehere- (author)2007-08-10

I finally got mine to work ..with the first makescreen I made I didn't Iron it long enough...the second one I made worked only once, and I got this picture of an airsoft pellet hitting it. (Having 330 volts run through your hand feels really weird.) thanks for this instructable, it was really fun. maybe I'll get some better pictures when I make a new screen.

here's better pictures :) the first picture is baking soda being shot off a paper cup the second one is water being shot of a paper cup the third water off the top of a cup the fourth is baking soda off the top of a cup(not very impressive....) the fifth is baby powder off the top off the cup I found the pictures come out better if you put a piece of paper over the flash, so it diffuses the flash a bit

phinch (author)-insertnamehere-2007-09-07

awesome! where is the makescreen on the paper cup photos? as far as diffusing the flash with paper thats a great idea. I pointed the flash away from the subject to accomplish the same thing.

-insertnamehere- (author)phinch2007-09-08

with the paper cup photos, I put the makescreen under the cups and shot from's the one that permanently stained the carpet in my bedroom. I used food coloring in water and shot it from above. now I have a bloodstained look to my carpet...the picture is cool though :)

phinch (author)-insertnamehere-2007-09-17

I'm gonna have to try that. As far as the carpet stain, its all in the name of science!

phinch (author)-insertnamehere-2007-09-07

I love how your underdesk looks a lot like my underdesk!

gamma_fear (author)2007-09-03

you could use the same technique to take pictures of the veins in your hand (i.e. flash behind your hand).

Etitan (author)2007-07-03

I like the idea Vendigroth had below of a gold necklace saving your life from lightning, it's creative. The only issues with it would be that 1) I'm not sure the gold necklace around your neck is a better path to ground than your body and 2) if a lightning bolt on average has about 900000 kJ of energy and a mole of gold takes ~340 kJ to go from ambient temp and solid to being vaporized... that suggests it would take over 1000 lbs worth of gold necklace to use up the energy of one lightning bolt. And the scar... jeez 2000°F boiling gold will splatter and mess you up pretty good. Oh, and btw, very nice instructible. I've been trying this out and like the airsoft pellet or crossbow bolt through the water balloons, I seem to get the best pics when something breaks during the flash (whether on purpose or accident).

toogood (author)2007-06-10

its an mp5

joevn (author)2006-05-11

Very cool! I used a similar foil sheet method for this shot with my crossbow bolt through 2 water balloons.


sockeye101 (author)2007-04-29

yeah , um i have to agre because i was working on a science fair project, and it involved the use of a computer monitor. i wont go into specifics, but expect an instructable on it soon. anyways, bottom line is i got hit by 30000 volts, and it did sting a bit, but i didnt get hurt at all, not noticably anyways.

marc92 (author)2007-04-06

A great thing to take a high speed photo of is a popping water balloon right after the balloon has gone but the water is still in the shape of the balloon. It might be hard trigger the camera. I did with a video camera and slowed it down on my computer and took a screen-shot. Real cool!!!

bullschmidt (author)2006-02-20

Another common trigger you can use is any little old radio shack microphone. I took a strobe photography lab in college (was a ton of fun), and mic's were very useful for anything that caused large sound or air disruptions. For example - we used it to catch the shockwave off a bullet. The trick to almost all strobe photography is figuring out the best trigger mechainsm.

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