With a DSLR, mirrorless camera, or even any of today’s latest mobile phone cameras, anyone with basic photography skills and creativity can take a good picture of people, animals, places, and other objects. However, it is a slightly different story when it comes to capturing insanely fast-moving objects, such as a lightning strike, a popping balloon, a speeding bullet, or a water droplet.
To capture incredibly fast-moving objects, you need to learn the nitty-gritty of high-speed photography. This advanced photography technique lets photographers freeze moments that occur in a fraction of a second. With the right tools, those moments can be captured in a perfect picture and be treasured forever.
If you are honing your photography skills and thinking of giving high-speed photography a try, here are 7 useful tips you should learn to capture a high-speed picture.
1. Know your subject and objects.
Your photographs can be of people, animals, gadgets, or even mountains. The subject in your picture, whether living or inanimate, is usually the focused object or the point of interest in your photo. It is the essence of your photograph. For example, a picture of breaking glass can have a subject of "beautiful destruction."
To produce the best high-speed photos, you have to identify your subject before you start. Since high-speed photography can be unpredictable, you have to set out beforehand what you are aiming to do clearly, that is, the photograph you want to produce. Having a clear idea of what your final picture will significantly help you to figure out how to capture the perfect picture.
2. Safety first.
Certain high-speed photography shots, like taking photos of lightning, speeding bullet, and breaking glass, can be dangerous. Before you get into this kind of photography, see to it that you fully understand all the risks involved. If you aim to capture a lightning strike, make sure that you are taking photos from a safe place, that is not in an open area, near trees, or in close proximity to the lightning. Consider using a tripod and a camera trigger while controlling your camera remotely from inside your vehicle or any other safe area.
Other types of high-speed photography, like taking pictures of a shattering glass, can also pose serious safety hazards. Ensure your safety by always wearing safety glasses and all other necessary protective gear. For any risky high-speed photography activities, it is always best to have an assistant and a person who can perform first aid treatment like CPR in case of emergency.
3. Choose the right camera, flash, and lens.
For high-speed photography, you should use a DSLR camera or a mirrorless camera that has manual controls. You can use any lens to capture high-speed objects. To keep your camera gear safe from water splashes, shattering glass, or exploding paint, it is prudent to choose a lens that has a long focal length. This will allow for enough distance between your camera and your subject.
If you are aiming to capture a picture of lightning, any camera that can be controlled manually will work. For lightning photography, which is more challenging and unpredictable, it is best to use a fast lens (i.e., low apertures like f2.8 or lower) to help you freeze lightning strikes. Most photographers will also choose a wide-angle lens to capture a greater angle of view and increase their chances of obtaining the best shot of lightning bolts.
Some high-speed photographs, like photos of a lightning strikes, do not require flash whereas others, like photos of subjects taken in a dark room or indoors, require additional flash lighting to freeze your subject. If your camera has limited shutter speed range, the light from a flash will compensate for this. For high-speed photography, you should use a flash with manual power control. A second flash unit can be very useful to provide bursts of light from additional angles which can improve your shot.
4. Use a high-speed camera trigger.
In high-speed photography, your goal is to freeze beautiful moments which are almost impossible to capture because they occur in a split second. Most DSLRs today have shutter speeds up to 1/4000, and if there is not enough ambient light, you will likely have to adjust your shutter speed to a faster shutter speed than for usual photo shots. Although your DSLR or mirrorless camera can be triggered manually to capture high-speed objects, it would take a tremendous amount of effort and impeccable timing to capture the perfect split-second shot.
Instead, using a camera triggering system allows you to create high-speed magic. High-speed photography trigger devices like the MIOPS Smart+ Camera Trigger can control your camera and flash using advanced triggering modes like lightning, sound, laser, and more. The device's smart sensors are much faster and accurate at detecting movement, sound, or light than the human eye. This amazing device gives you the ability to capture the perfect picture of lightning strikes using lightning triggering mode or a stunning photo of breaking glass or a popping balloon using the sound mode. Its laser mode also gives you the ability to freeze a water droplet and capture it in a beautiful photograph.
5. Pick the right accessories.
A good tripod is another very important accessory. You will be dealing with a lot of things simultaneously during your high-speed photography shoot and you should fix your camera on a tripod so you can focus on the final result. A tripod is also essential for lightning photography since your camera needs to be held in a rock-steady position during the long exposure. An ideal tripod should carry the weight of your camera without a problem. You should also take into consideration its weight and price.
Another important accessory for high-speed photography is a camera cable that allows you to control your camera remotely to prevent any accidental camera shakes. Camera cables connect your camera trigger like MIOPS Smart+ to your camera and will enable you to control your camera remotely. An extension cable may also be used to connect your camera to your trigger at a more extended range. Moreover, you should consider buying a spare battery for your camera and other devices to make sure you won't run out of power during your high-speed photography sessions.
See MIOPS camera accessories for more.
6. Know when to use the flash.
There is flash high-speed photography, and there is also non-flash high-speed photography. As I mentioned earlier, an example of non-flash photography is lightning photography since this practice uses the light burst of lightning itself to illuminate the photo. Taking photos of a speeding vehicle or capturing a water splash in broad daylight are other examples of non-flash high-speed photography. Without using a flash, you will have to use a faster shutter speed. Most DSLRs today have a shutter speed up to 1/4000th of a second while some are even faster. With enough ambient light, 1/4000th is already fast enough to freeze a high-speed object in a photograph.
On the other hand, flash high-speed photography utilizes the burst of light from the flash to freeze any high-speed action. Use this method when there is little to no ambient light to capture high-speed objects like a popping balloon or a painted water droplet. In non-flash high-speed photography, your shutter speed is not a critical factor because you are relying on the very brief flash burst to freeze the action. With flashes and a narrow aperture, you can get up to 1/25000 seconds of burst, which will definitely freeze the action and provides enough light to expose the photograph correctly.
The secret to capture a high-speed picture with a flash comes down to how you control and adjust the output power of the flash. Remember that the lower the power of the flash, the shorter the light burst duration, which exposes the object for a shorter time. This gives a faster blast of light that can unquestionably freeze your subject in a dark room.
To learn more, read why shutter speed is not an important factor in high-speed flash photography.
7. Be patient.
High-speed photography is a higher-level type of photography. It is challenging but also rewarding if you can do it right. It will take a lot of trial and error before you succeed in capturing the right photograph. It can also be messy as it involves several gadgets, props, and processes. But the more you practice and familiarize yourself with the process and the gear, you will discover your high-speed photography style.
Practice makes perfect. Hence, don’t stop trying until you get the best shot. Finally, do not stop reading and listening to more experienced photographers to deepen your knowledge and get ideas on how to capture more amazing high-speed photographs.
Related article: 10 Tips & Tricks for High-Speed Photography