High speed photography usually requires some technical know how in order to create a trigger (you can also buy them too) that will allow you to get the perfectly timed shot. Many of these triggers use light or sound to get the timing perfectly. The technique that I use doesn't require triggers but a lot of trial and error. Attached are some examples of high speed photos that I got using this technique.
Step 1: Materials
1. Camera (You'll want one that you can mess with the shutter speed and aperture)
3. External Flash
1. A Friend (have an extra set of hands can make the process much easier)
2. Flashlight (it'll help you get around in the dark)
3. Black shirt (used as a backdrop)
In addition to these you will need certain things (subjects) to take pictures of. Some examples of things you can do are:
- Water drops hitting water or a hard flat surface. Using food coloring mixed with milk makes for the best drops.
- Things that "explode" make great high speed shots. Some things you can use are water balloons, eggs, glass, and bubbles.
- Something else that looks great are things that are dropped into flour. The flour creates a really cool effect.
Step 2: 1. Setting Up the Scene
You'll want the room your working in to be super dark. Garages work really well since they usually don't have windows. Really any room at night will work just keep in mind that there is usually clean up involved. You'll also want to be able to flip the light switch on and off in between shots (or you can keep a flashlight handy).
Now you'll want to setup the subject (in my case I'll be using a water balloon). With the water balloon I just had my friend hold it but you can also tie it to the string and suspend it. If you choose to you will want to setup a dark backdrop so that only your subject is in the shot. Now you'll want to setup the camera on the tripod and point it at the subject (duh!).
So as the picture shows you'll have your camera setup on a tripod aimed at the subject (with a black backdrop if you want).
*By the way just imagine the water balloon is right in front of the camera :)
Step 3: 3. Setting Up the Camera
Now, before you turn off the lights, focus on the subject and if you can lock your focus so it doesn't change every time you half press the shutter button. At this point you can turn off the lights. Now before you burst any balloons or drop any water drops you'll want to take a picture of your subject. So with your camera on the bulb setting (leaving the shutter open) open your shutter. Now take your external flash and fire it indirectly at the subject (i.e. bounce it off the ceiling) or use a diffuser (I find that pointing it directly at the subject can create harsh lighting). Now close your shutter and study your picture. If you aren't well versed in photography you have two settings to tweak with in order to change the exposure of your picture. Since the shutter is left open we can't work with that but we can change the f-stop and tweak the external flash. If for example your picture is too dark you'll want to open up your aperture a little bit or lower your f-stop. So for example if it is at f/16 you'll want to try f/8 (smaller f-stops mean a larger aperture). You'll want to adjust the f-stop till you get the exposure that you want. If you find that you increased your f-stop as high as it will go and the picture is still really blown out then you'll want to mess with your flash so that it doesn't shoot so bright.
*attached is a graphic that shows really well how the f-stop works.
Step 4: 4. Taking the Shot!
Finally we can get to taking some real pictures! At this point you should have your camera setup, your subject setup and be ready to take some shots. This is really where it comes down to technique, practice and a little bit of luck. For my shots I use a knife to pop the balloon. What you want to do when taking the shot is to pop the balloon and shoot the flash at the same time. This is why it's easier if you have two sets of hands. You can time each other and one can shoot the flash while the other pops the balloon (or drop the water drop depending on what you're doing). With enough trial and error you should be able to come up with some great high speed shots!