Introduction: Minty Strobe

Picture of Minty Strobe

Make a simple triggerable strobe for taking action photos with.

You will need:
A working disposable camera flash unit, and the knowledge of how to use one safely
An Altoids tin
Soldering iron and solder
Electrical tape
Wire (preferably stranded and solid core, but you could get away with either)
1 or 2 small electronics switches
AA battery
Digital camera capable of taking long-exposure pictures, preferably with a remote
Camera tripod

...and for the photos:
Thick card (I use cereal box card)
Corrugated cardboard
Kitchen foil
Something to take photos of (I use a .177 air pistol and sheets of ice or plastic cups and a Fireball gun- get creative)

You may also want:
Fan (for reducing flux smoke inhaled)
Zip ties
Small single AA battery holder
Crocodile clips
Two friends to help you take photos in darkness

Step 1: Remove Flash Circuit

Picture of Remove Flash Circuit

If you have already done this, skip a step.

To open the camera, it may have screws holding the case together which you will need to remove, but most cameras just have plastic locking tabs holding the case on. Break these off, but avoid sticking a metal screwdriver into the case as shorting the wrong parts of the circuit board can wreck it. Once you have the flash unit out avoid touching the capacitor wires or exposed metal parts of the board until you have discharged the capacitor by shorting out the two wires with a metal object. I handle the board by the battery contacts (safe), the casing of the capacitor and the plastic front of the flash bulb.

Step 2: Identify Connections

Picture of Identify Connections

There are three main pairs of connections to identify on your flash board. These are:

Battery holder- likely to be two sprung metal tabs that went in the battery compartment.

Charge switch- likely to be two brass contacts separated by a small gap on the front of the board. When the camera was assembled these went under the flash button.

Shutter contacts- likely to be two thin metal contacts with a ~1mm air gap between them. If you click them together with the flash charged, it should fire the flash bulb (it's worth doing that now to chech that the circuit still works). These are at 300V so don't touch with your fingers! Use a pair of tweezers or scissors to do it with.

To test the flash circuit, squeeze an AA battery between the terminals, and touch something metal to the charge button contacts- you should hear a rising whistling noise. Wait about five to ten seconds, and remove the battery. Click the flash contacts sharply together and the flash bulb should fire.

Step 3: Lay It Out

Picture of Lay It Out

Firstly, check that the flash circuit will fit inside your tin with space for an AA battery or your holder. Make sure that the capacitor is discharged before putting the circuit in the metal tin. If it won't fit, your options are
a) find a smaller flash
b) find a bigger tin
c) get creative with the flash circuit board (not recommended)

Determine from the layout where your switch or switches will go, where the trigger wires will exit the tin, and where to situate the battery.

Cut wires long enough to connect:
The -ve terminal of the battery to the -ve battery terminal on the board
The +ve terminal of the battery to the switch contacts
The switch contacts to the +ve battery terminal on the board
The "charge" LED to the edge of the tin if you include it

Step 4: Prep Your Tin

Picture of Prep Your Tin

Line the inside of the tin in electrical tape- this will prevent the circuit from accidentally shorting out on the inside of the tin. The tape will stick better if you clean out the minty dust in the tin first.

Once you have decided where the switch or switches are going, grab your favourite method of making holes in sheet metal and get going. I made two switch holes before realising that I was only using one switch, so routed the trigger wires through that hole instead. The charge LED is completely optional, but we all know that all good hacks have an LED in them somewhere...

Step 5: Wire It Up (again)

Picture of Wire It Up (again)

Determine how long you want your trigger wires- a few feet should do for tabletop strobe photos, but if you want a more elaborate setup allow a couple of metres. Cut two lengths of stranded wire this long, and twist them together.

Solder the appropriate wires depending on your circuit, whether you are using one or two switches and whether you include the LED. It's unwieldy to explain in writing so I'll just give the circuit diagrams- however you wire it up, the circuit board should have wires soldered to the battery terminals, charge switch terminals, shutter switch terminals and optionally the "ready" LED wire. Once you have the wires soldered on, tape the power wires to the battery (or put the battery in the holder), push the switch through the hole in the tin, screw the nuts on to secure it and settle the circuit into its new home.

Once you have the trigger wires at a comfortable length, add a strain relief on the inside. I prefer to tightly put a zip tie around the trigger wires, but you can just tie a knot in them at this point.

Step 6: Fire It Up

Make sure the capacitor is discharged. Turn on the power switch- you should hear the rising whistling noise again. If the noise stutters, warbles or cuts out, you probably have a bad connection in the power circuit somewhere. Wait about five seconds or until the whine is too high to hear, and turn off the power switch. Do not look directly at the flash bulb, and touch the bare ends of the flyleads together to check it is working. Manually discharge the capacitor by connecting its terminals together after firing the flash.

Step 7: One More Hole to Make

Picture of One More Hole to Make

The circuit should now fit snugly in the tin and be able to be charged and fired from the outside. Mark the part of the tin lid that covers the flash bulb. Take the circuit out of the tin, and cut out this part of the lid. I do that by heavily scoring the lines with a knife I don't mind blunting, then piercing a hole and using strong pliers to tear out the scored section.

Put the circuit back into the tin to check that the bulb sits underneath the hole you've just cut, and tape or otherwise secure the circuit inside the tin if it moves around.

Step 8: Make Your Contact Switch

Picture of Make Your Contact Switch

You now have a remote-triggered Minty Strobe. All you need now is a contact switch and you can take some awesome action photos.

Cut two pieces of card, between 10cmx15cm and 15cmx25cm. Line one side of each with foil with the shiny side outwards to make the contacts. I found it useful to put a spacer underneath the foil before taping the edges to make it bulge outwards slightly in the middle. Attach a spacer a couple of cm thick near the top of one of the pieces of card on the foil side, and tape the other piece of card to the spacers with the foil side inwards, so the tape forms a swinging "hinge". When stood upright, a light tap to the back of the swinging piece of card should make the foil contacts touch together.

Step 9: Get Creative!

Picture of Get Creative!

OK- here's how I take strobe photos in the dark- YMMV depending on what you shoot, what you shoot it with, your camera, light conditions and so on.

- Rig up the switch in a vertical position as in the last photo with a sturdy support behind it- a thick hardback book you don't mind damaging, a strong cardboard box with something in it to weight it down, use your imagination.
- You may want to reinforce the back surface of the switch contact that's taking the impact- for the ice photos the .177 pistol I was shooting with would have punched straight through the card switch so I taped a wad of double-thickness corrugated cardboard to it. I don't recommend shooting this with anything more powerful than air weapons, but if you can get a picture of an M107 round going through a watermelon or something I'd love to see it.
- Stand something that will look cool in front of the switch. The spacing determines the timing of the flash- put it very close to the switch to catch it instantly after being hit, further away to allow it longer to come apart before the flash fires. Experiment.
- Set up a camera on a tripod aimed at the target. Ideally, a camera with timed remote shutter would be helpful, or you can draft in assistants.
- Charge the Minty Strobe, making sure the switch contacts aren't touching
- Turn out the lights, open the camera shutter, fire/throw/propel objects at your target and hope the flash goes off. Wait for the camera shutter to close, turn the lights back on, check your photo.

You'll probably need to experiment to find the best aperture and ISO to give a good exposure, unless you're a super-l33t photographer with light meters and such, in which case you probably don't need me telling you what to do.

Step 10: Here's One I Made Earlier

Picture of Here's One I Made Earlier

Well.. seven, actually. Thanks to Ali, Mike and Chris for helping me take these. Hopefuly these images will give you some ideas for taking your own. If you get some decent photos this way, drop me a comment- who knows, maybe there'll be a Minty Strobe Flickr pool some day?

Happy strobing!



dallasfan458 (author)2009-09-13

450 volts? I was screwing around with one and shocked my self...knocked me out...i looked up online the voltage...4000-7000 volts!

Dodge (author)dallasfan4582012-02-25

That's the trigger plate voltage. The current in the trigger circuit is extremely low. The capacitor is the painful part. Mine charges up to about 330 vdc.

arduinoe (author)2009-07-02

data23 is right , but a camera flash can be up to 5 ma , dosent sound a lot but the lethal limit is 6-8ma , it would probably just hurt A LOT if you touched your finger on the charged capacitor , but if you had it going in one arm and out the other , and you had a weak heart , your dead fred

bschran (author)arduinoe2011-05-26

5amps not mA... 5 amps would be pretty nasty 5mA you probably wouldnt even feel much

diy_bloke (author)bschran2011-10-17

well, the problem is that 50uA can cause yr heart to go out of rhythm and fibrilate. That be kinda bad. A 'higher' current, if any effect on the heart would keep the electric acivity of the heart cells synchronised (but if too high, fry you)

PKM (author)arduinoe2009-07-02

A low-voltage (110 or 230 V), 50 or 60-Hz AC current through the chest for a fraction of a second may induce ventricular fibrillation at currents as low as 60 mA. With DC, 300 to 500 mA is required.

From the fount of all knowledge- it goes on to say that a current of 1ma can induce fibrillation if administered directly to the heart, but I think that's unlikely from one of these- even arm to arm is difficult, it's usually just across one hand.

panzuman (author)PKM2009-09-19

these things wont kill you but i use this loosely if the conditions were right (fat chance) it could kill you but me and my frnds make tazers with these and we are fine aside from the burn marks you get in your skin afterwards :)

harrycarry250 (author)2009-05-24

I would recomend taping the whole circuit in tape so you dont electrucute your self with 300 VOLTS like i did p.s 300 volts is three times a wall socket!!

diy_bloke (author)harrycarry2502011-10-17

:-) I guess we are safe then in Europe as 300 volts is less than 1,5 times a wall socket :-)

ya its okay to take a small dc shock as long as the "I" is very low. approx under 100mA.

IF you had been shocked by 300 volts, you WOULD be dead. A wall socket will injure you, and could possibly kill you. Three times a wall socket.... You would be a crisp.

data23 (author)AdamVigneaux2009-06-03

actually, 300 V at a VERY low amperage would not kill you! Its not the amount, but the RATE at which the energy flows that is dangerous!

app0 (author)data232009-11-23

 Once I was shocked by 220V, 6A~ . Felt only a little vibration in my fingers(Touched a wire with bad insulation). I think I was isolated(I wore socks). But don't try it at home!!!

PKM (author)AdamVigneaux2009-05-25

A wall socket is unlikely to kill you unless you are wet, or unlucky, or have a heart condition. I've electrocuted myself with UK mains (230V RMS or about 325V peak) several times and had nothing more than a painful buzz. More to the point, I've electrocuted myself with probably tens of thousands of volts from a piezo sparker from a lighter which gives a small tingle. Volts don't kill you, amps do- that is why the same voltage from mains is just painful with dry skin but lethal with wet, more conductive skin when a higher current can flow. I haven't measured the voltage on a camera flash but the capacitor is rated for 330V so I assume it is of that magnitude, and I've electrocuted myself with those a number of times- it's a painful jolt, like mains electricity, but not serious.

arduinoe (author)PKM2009-07-02

its the volts that jolt and the millies that killy

AdamVigneaux (author)PKM2009-06-16

Haha, sorry guys, I didn't think that through before I posted it. Whoops! That's embarassing....

warmario (author)harrycarry2502009-08-14

You electrocuted yourself... And youre still alive! It's a miracle! LOL. (There is a difference between electrocute and severe shocks.) ;D

Its 330 volt xD

redcars101 (author)harrycarry2502009-06-19

Is This: a good Micro Trigger Coil for Xenon Tubes. How Do I use if theres only one at the top?

joehudy (author)2011-04-11

thats funny i shock my self on accident all the time im cinda used to it lol

GENERALCHAOS (author)joehudy2011-05-07

very shocking don't u agree ?

qmde (author)GENERALCHAOS2011-09-14

lol yes, very shocking xD

GENERALCHAOS (author)qmde2011-09-14

i like the pic u have 0.@ lmao

GENERALCHAOS (author)joehudy2011-05-07

ps: oh yea i had a turntable box with wires cut clean long time ago and for some reason to touch the thing every time i walk by it 0,o very shocking

etw (author)2011-06-24

Where is the LED connected to with its anode?

CYNICALifornia (author)2009-01-13

I've only been shocked a couple times from those flash capacitors while exploring the innards of a disposable camera. It won't kill you, but you'll know you touched the wrong thing. :)

450Volts from a 470uf capacitor bank hurts like hell. beat that you mains veterans. it was from my coil gun i made. shots a can pretty gud lol

Jimmy Proton (author)jamwaffles2010-07-02

haha i had one of thoes and i kept touching the board cuz it felt funny

jamwaffles (author)Jimmy Proton2010-07-02

Lol trust me this felt insane not funny :P it was on the top of my finger and hurt like hell - AND it wasn't even a particularly powerful coil gun XD Oh a little tip, for the copper wire, a great source are the coils at the back of the CRT in an old telly or big old monitor - there's loads of the stiff! James

Jimmy Proton (author)jamwaffles2010-07-02

sry i wasnt talking about the coil gun i was talkin about the camera but thax 4 the tip cuz have that thing that all the coils are on =D

I agree, it makes your arm jerk a little bit away, and after you've done it a few times, you get a tiny bit numb and it hurts later. In conclusion, wear rubber gloves. :D

Azurial (author)2010-05-20

that was the capacitor discharging ^_^

OWNERMAN (author)2009-10-18

 I have been shocked by a capacitor, let holes in my finger. Ouch

Cubie2 (author)OWNERMAN2009-11-10

yeah, be careful with those :)

jonnyboy323 (author)2009-10-31

 Heres a few i took. Excellent Instructable!

arduinoe (author)2009-10-07

a new 9 V battery is  more like 150 -200 ma at the least , and as the volatge goes up the current goes down , converted to 30 V thats nothing , listen in physics  :P

harrycarry250 (author)2009-10-06

Well, when i stood up i fell over onto the floor. i just sat there a few until the numbness in my leg went away!! :)

CharMio (author)2009-10-06

actually your wrong on that one, a guy in California antecedently killed his friend by shooting a piece of tissue at him in a prank, other than that, good metaphor

whatevers (author)2009-08-04

when i was doning this mine went POP!

MadBricoleur (author)2009-07-28

So, the pellet goes right through the foil then? Or is there something i missed. O_o

neardood (author)2008-07-13

i suspect you compied the altoids box idea from me who copied some other poor dood, so could at least give me credit so i can give him credit?!?!?

PKM (author)neardood2008-07-13

OK... you did notice I posted this Instructable a year before you even joined, didn't you? :P Also saying "you copied the Altoids box idea" to anyone is like saying "Hey! I walk using my feet too, you copied that from me!"

electricalman123 (author)PKM2009-01-04

True, tons of people use altoids tins for their instructables, and many other things..

yeah. they're just conveniently sized, most projects easily fit into them, and they make pretty good cases for delicate electronics, or, in my case, a failed attempt at making a thermite det pack. said attempt failed due to the fact that i couldn't build a remote detonator.

arduinoe (author)mettaurlover2009-07-02

MAKE even sell empty altoids cans for projects such as this

N1CK4ND0 (author)2009-06-23

I think neardood was simply making a joke about how many people have done it.

junits15 (author)2009-04-04

what exact model of shuttle do you have? I was thinking about getting one and tricking it out with cool new parts. However I can't decide on one particular model.

crapflinger (author)2007-05-10

i tried and failed to make one of these not too long ago...i believe my failure was due to a lack of patience and ipropper supplies...i had a short somewhere and as soon as the CAP would dissipate through the altoids can and zap the hell out of me....of course i had twisted the charge buttons wires it just kept charging and discharging as soon as i touched it..i had to pick it up with rubber gloves and throw it in the trash...hope no homeless person tried to pick it up

mettaurlover (author)crapflinger2009-01-06

that happened with me, too; the first time i dismantled a disposable camera, it was still charged... and it was one of those cameras with the capacitors that could stun a small cow... couldn't feel my arm for six hours...

trooperrick (author)2008-02-22

I made one and its Awesome! I prefer through a little mound of flour with my airsoft gun. The first picture is a tall mound and the other one is a short but fat mound. Thanks for a great instructable!

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