High Speed Photography

Introduction: High Speed Photography

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)
2. Tripod
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!

Digital Days Photo Contest

Runner Up in the
Digital Days Photo Contest



    • Metalworking Contest

      Metalworking Contest
    • Water Contest

      Water Contest
    • Creative Misuse Contest

      Creative Misuse Contest

    31 Discussions

    Really very high speed Photography. You captured some good Pictures.Here you can find online magazines, animation magazine, vintage magazines Just visit and find thousand of magazines arranged by categories for the visitors.

    you may tie the balloon to a string or hang it so that you can have one extra hand to hold your shutter release chord.

    or better use the 10-second timer of ur camera and hit the balloon at the exact time the 10th second strikes.

    this is awesome very cool dude, i will practice this one......thanks a lot!!

    Hate to comment again, but what do you suggest is suitable for protection of the lens and camera? Knowing my luck –which resembles Murphy's Law– I'd most likely splatter my Tamron lens and Sony D-SLR A100... not willing to risk it without protecting the equipment as well as retaining a great effect (i.e. without splattering milk or water on a protective shield, not too happy about that). Any thoughts?

    2 replies

    That's actually a pretty good question. I ran into this problem one time before when I was experimenting with eggs. The camera is pretty resilient and there's not much you can do to protect it unless you want to rig it with a plastic bag or if you have the money you can get an underwater housing. But I don't think there will be enough water/milk to damage your camera. What you should worry about however is your lens. It's not really good to get it dirty with milk and water stains. I'd recommend getting a cheap UV filter to put on your camera however so if any water or milk does hit it you won't have to worry about wiping down your lens but just a cheap filter.

    Thank you for the quick reply, I wasn't expecting one so soon!
    Well, I already had my UV filters attached to my lenses for quite a while, maybe I'm just being a bit too cautious. However, I was thinking about just propping up a sheet of clear, clean Plexiglas then drilling a spot for my flash... with any such luck, maybe I'd be able to take a clear photo without as much risk. I don't know if that's such a great idea, though.

     The first photo is the best one i got. I love it. Let me know what you guys think. I left the shutter open then flashed it with my point and shoot camera from the side or above like the bottom picture.

    2 replies

    Great pictures man! I actually really like the ripples in the second shot but your first shot is awesome!

    Impressive! And much easier than expected, to boot! I've gotta try this with my DSLR and maybe use another Instructable to get that old flash working...

    You don't really need a "good enough" camera. Most simple point and shoots have the ability to do a few second exposures that would allow you to still attempt this. :)

    I have a cheap digital camera, but I don't know how to change the exposure. How do you do that?

    Do you think that a one second apperture exposure would be enough? Sadly that's the highest that mine does.

    1 second? is it a mobile. usually a camera has an "M" or "P" mode that you can use to change settings

    Yes it does have a / p / m, no it's not a phone and it can do anything from 1/1000th of a second to 1 second shutter speed.

    mine goes from 1/1200 to 8 second shutter speed :) btw nice nikon and is there any other way without external flash?

    If you have a fast shutter and a good aperture then it is possible to catch some high speed stuff, though not so easily, but this is the way I've figured out....perhaps with some tinkering you can figure out a different way yourself.