Capturing blink-and-miss-it moments normally unseen by the human eye, high-speed photography freezes motion to reveal hidden detail and show split-second action in all its glory.
Humans have long been interested in what happens in the moments of motion beyond natural perception, and there’s been a long history of people using photography to discover the answer. Beginning with Edward Muybridge’s famous 1879 investigation into whether all of a horse’s legs left the ground at once during a running stride, the capture of high-speed images has become both a technique for scientific knowledge and as a method for creative photography.
Muybridge’s first high-speed horse images taken in 1879
Typically most photographers would now describe anything above about 1/200sec as a fast shutter speed, while when the term “high-speed” is used, speeds over 1/1000sec are common. The faster the shutter speed, the more effective it will be at sharply capturing a moving subject, eliminating the detail-sapping motion blur that appears at slower speeds. In photography’s digital age, we’re used to being able to freeze motion like sports players and wildlife using nothing but a fast shutter speed and our own quick responses, no specialist equipment required. However, extremely quickly moving subjects such as breaking glass, water droplets and explosions remain a challenge to capture with a camera alone. The problem is not the high shutter speeds necessary to freeze them, most modern digital cameras can comfortably shoot at 1/2000sec and above, but reacting and timing your image perfectly for the right millisecond of action.
An ink drop photo that required a high shutter speed to be captured sharply.
Thankfully, affordable technology has been developed to help photographers conquer this problem. Camera triggers enable devices to automatically release their shutter in the right moment for an image based on a number of possible stimuli, such as changes to sound, light, vibration, motion, or laser tripping. These camera triggers remove the need to manually press the shutter button, providing almost instantaneous capture, so that subjects aren’t missed in a shot. This kind of camera accessory has made images that were previously impossible to capture with consumer-level devices, a now straightforward and simple process, even allowing the fine-tuning of delay timings for full creative control of the final photo.
Open the shutter just a split second later, and the exploding egg would have been missed.
One thing to be aware of though is the effect of high shutter speeds on an image’s exposure. Low speeds hold a camera’s shutter open for longer periods, during which light continues hitting the camera’s sensor giving plenty of time for a scene to be exposed. Conversely, high speeds mean that the shutter is quickly opened and closed, allowing less time for light to hit the sensor, meaning less of an exposure. To combat this, additional high-powered light sources such as flashguns and studio lighting can often help photographers to get the best high-speed results. These lighting units can also be connected to a trigger, meaning that their burst of light is fired at the ideal moment for a well-exposed image.
The trigger you may want to consider incorporating into a high-speed setup is the MIOPS Smart. It allows you to activate your camera’s shutter automatically, with a range of inbuilt sensors. It’s compatible with a wide range of camera brands and makes paint splash portraits, lightning strikes, bursting balloon shots and other high-speed subjects a breeze to capture.
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