High-speed photography’s ability to capture elusive and nearly impossible shots makes it a very attractive approach to record high-speed events that cannot be seen by the naked eye.
The process of capturing events that happen mid-air and in just a fraction of a second may sound intimidating for beginner photographers. While it’s true that this type of photography used to require a lot of high-level gadgets and camera gear, the availability of modern devices has made it easier.
Getting started with high-speed photography does not require you to upgrade your gear but it does need you to have the right devices for a successful shoot. So what are the camera gear and devices that you need for high-speed photography? Let’s start with the basics.
A DSLR camera or any camera capable of shooting in Manual Mode
Whether it’s an advanced gear or an entry-level DSLR, you’ll get the chance to get started on high-speed photography as long as it has a manual function.
Having a Manual Option will help you adjust the settings, such as the shutter speed, aperture, and your lens’s focus. In doing high-speed photography, you’re dealing with unpredictability so making your device more flexible and adjustable is a must.
So what are the camera settings that are best for high-speed photography? The answer will depend on the subject and where you’re doing the shoot. If you are in a controlled environment like a photography studio, you can follow these settings:
a) Shutter Speed
In high-speed photography, setting the shutter speed does not really matter since how your camera captures the event will not depend on how fast your camera releases the shutter. It will depend on how fast your flash is.
Your camera should be in Bulb Mode since you’re shooting the high-speed event in a completely dark environment. As was mentioned above, the success of capturing the high-speed event will depend on the speed of your flash.
High-speed photography in a dark room requires a very narrow aperture. You’re capturing a high-speed event that lasts a split of a second so timing is everything when opening the shutter and capturing that burst from your light source.
Aside from putting your camera on Bulb Mode, the suggested aperture for high-speed shots fall in the range of f/11 – f/16. This range allows your camera to focus on the scene and it gives it enough time for the light to hit your device’s sensor.
Your ISO setting will help you capture clear and clean images of the high-speed event. Most photographers suggest setting your ISO to a range of 100 to 200 so you won’t have to worry about grainy images.
Remember that you will be shooting in an extremely dark environment and your ISO setting should be adjusted with your shutter and aperture levels.
Activate manual focus so your camera won’t adjust its focus during the high-speed event. In order to make sure that your camera is set where it needs to be, you can use a flashlight. Turn the light towards your subject.
Make sure the light hits it. You can either manually or automatically focus on your subject. Once the focus is locked on the subject, your focus ring should be set to Manual so it won’t automatically reset.
- Get the right camera lens for the high-speed event
The type of lens that you need will depend on your subject. For capturing close-up images like in water-drop photography, balloon popping photography, or water sculptures photography, using a 24-700mm zoom lens is ideal.
Some high-speed events can be risky and dangerous for your camera. Your lens should be protected from the shards of broken glass photography or from the splashes of water from popping balloons. Your lenses’ focal length should be long enough to give you a safe distance while making sure that your frame fully captures the subject.
- Use one or multiple external flash units depending on your subject
The number of external flashes will depend on the type of subject that you want to capture. It will also depend on how you want your image to appear. Set up your flash units and make sure that they are outside the frame of the viewfinder.
As explained above, the flash is perhaps the most important device that you need for a successful high-speed photo shoot. Set your flash unit and when you need it to burst. You need to get the right timing of the shot in order to accurately light up at the precise moment.
The most basic rule of using flash in high-speed photography is to set it at the lowest possible power setting. Why? Choosing the lowest power setting equals the shortest flash duration.
Remember that you’re shooting a high-speed scene. At 1/128th power, for instance, you will have the opportunity to capture the event at almost 1/35,000th of a second. Imagine a magnificent sculpture of a water balloon popping in mid-air, frozen in time.
- Use a stable and good-quality tripod to remove the risk of blurry shots
Needless to say, another important device that is needed in high-speed photography is a good quality tripod. Aside from holding your camera and keeping it comfortably perched on a stable base, you are assured that your shots are not blurry, grainy, or out of focus.
Most importantly, a tripod will give you the hands-free and movement-free option so that you can capture long-exposure events using slow shutter speed and narrow aperture.
- Use a smart camera trigger to advance your high-speed photography skills
The introduction of remote camera triggers has changed the game in high-speed photography. People used to rely on the power of highly expensive camera equipment to capture elusive events.
Today, the best remote camera triggers in the market allow even entry-level cameras to get in the game and compete with professionals.
The types of camera triggers
Camera triggers can be wired or wireless. They can either be connected to your camera using a wire while others can be used remotely through a Bluetooth connection.
These triggers do not only help you remotely control the release of your camera’s shutter but they can also be used to trigger external flash units. In high-speed photography, the ability to push your camera’s trigger wirelessly as well as trigger your flash remotely can make a big difference.
Different sensors used by remote triggers
Camera triggers do not only allow remote control of your camera’s shutter release. It also gives you hands-free control of your device because remote triggers often have built-in sensors that can detect high-speed events.
It means that instead of manually clicking the trigger to release the shutter, your trigger’s highly sensitive sensor will signal the camera to do it for you.
1) Sound Sensor: Camera triggers with Sound Mode are perfect for high-speed events that make loud noises. Balloon popping photography, bullet photography, glass shattering photography, and other loud events can rely on sound sensors.
2) Light Sensor: A remote camera trigger can signal your camera to shoot a light burst event. For instance, lightning photography makes use of a trigger’s Lightning Mode to capture multiple bursts of light in a split of a second. Light sensors also detect camera flash bursts, a setting helpful in high-speed photos shot in a dark studio.
3) Motion Sensor: High-speed events that do not produce a loud bang or a burst of light can be hard to capture if your remote trigger does not have a motion sensor. Luckily, the latest camera triggers in the market today have a built-in Laser Mode that detects movement and signals the camera to shoot.
For instance, in water drop photography, when the droplet breaks the laser, it will signal your camera to shoot and capture the event. This gives photographers the ability to precisely capture movement at a specific location.
Choosing the best remote camera trigger
With all the available camera triggers in the market, how should you choose the best camera trigger for your high-speed photography journey? The answer is to make sure that the type of camera trigger you buy has the features and modes mentioned above.
MIOPS camera trigger, for instance, is a leading remote camera trigger that has dominated the photography community for years. Aside from having the features of Sound Mode, Lightning Mode, and Laser Mode perfect for high-speed photography, it has additional settings for HRD and Timelapse photography.
MIOPS Smart+ camera trigger also allows you to connect your trigger to your smartphone through a Bluetooth connection. A dedicated MIOPS app can be downloaded to fully take advantage of your device.
Aside from choosing the different trigger modes, you can adjust the timing of your high-speed shot. You can also set the delay timer so that you get the perfect images and timing that you want for your photo.
There is also an option to adjust the sensitivity of the sensors mentioned above. Most importantly, you can save your settings so that you can use them in similar photoshoots. Just imagine what an already powerful trigger can offer once it combines its ability with the advanced settings of your mobile phone.
Gather the items and props that you need to finally get started
Aside from the camera gear and devices, you’ll need the complete studio setup so you can finally get started in your high-speed photography journey. You don’t need expensive equipment and most of these items can be easily found in your local stores. Props for other high-speed photography events can even be found at home. Here are the basic materials that you need.
- Get a black backdrop
Aside from shooting in a completely dark studio, you have to use a black backdrop. It does not have to be expensive, but make sure that it absorbs light and does not cause any reflected light. You can use a regular black sheet, cardboard wide enough to cover the scene or any matte material.
- Choose a medium or a subject
The most common high-speed photography subject is water. Aside from it’s easy to acquire, this material can give you different types of images that can be surreal and mesmerizing. Capture a water drop and the resulting ripples on its base. Sculpt water and freeze it in an image. Pop a water-filled balloon and see what surprise images it offers.
If you want something more exciting and equally stunning, try glass-breaking photography. Capture the unpredictability and surreal images of glass shattering mid-air. Get a glimpse of a pellet breaking through a light bulb and immortalize it in an image.
Professional photographers also explore one of the most extreme high-speed events in a studio: bullet photography. With the right settings and the right camera devices, you’ll be able to capture a bullet mid-air or as it passes through an apple. Imagine the possibilities of having this power to shoot images that are impossible to be perceived by the naked eye.
Explore and let your creativity guide you! The article discussed high-speed photography that you can do in a controlled studio setting. Shooting high-speed events indoors has its advantages but it does not mean it’s the only place where you can enjoy high-speed photography. Why not go out and explore the great outdoors?
There is a long list of high-speed events that people have captured through the years. Lightning photography, for example, is one of the most challenging yet satisfying types of high-speed events that you can capture using your own camera.
For instance, wildlife photography through your high-speed gears can let you capture a hummingbird flying mid-air. In sports photography, you have the ability to immortalize that winning play. How about fulfilling your sci-fi dreams and capturing a live rocket launch event?
Decades ago, humans were limited to just experiencing events that their naked eye can easily observe. Today, the power of technology has given us the opportunity to not just witness seemingly elusive and extremely fast events, but also to capture them through the lens of our camera.
The world of high-speed photography has a lot of things to offer, especially to those who are curious and creative enough. Having the best gear and camera equipment will not only make a difference. It will open more doors and explore more ways to freeze more stunning scenes and images out there.
Blog Credit: Charm Villalon
Charm is a writer and a visual artist. Her drive to share ideas and stories is evident in her background in communication arts and language studies. Years of professional experience in content creation have given her a broad proficiency with the process of engaging online communities. An appreciation for multiple languages and cultures drives her to seek out experiences and capture these moments through her writing, digital art, and photography.
Image Credit: Markus Reugel, Unsplash