High Speed Photography Made Easy

High Speed Photography Made Easy

One of the reasons I love working for a magazine is that it forces me to be a Jack of all trades. While Automotive Photography and Portraits are my focus, Product Photography, Event Photography, Documentary Photography and any other discipline you can think up will also present itself from time to time and I'll have to adapt. The image above is the perfect example of the daily challenges I face as the Photo Director of RIDES Magazine, we needed something high speed and I had a day to teach myself how to do it. Here's how I did it.

There's two ways to go about freezing motion. One way is to use your camera's shutter speed to freeze the motion and the other is to use your strobe's flash duration. I chose to go with using my strobe's flash duration because it was what I was best equipped for. My Canon 1DS MKIII only syncs up to 1/250 of a second without employing some high speed sync trickery that I wasn't prepared to get into in the short amount of time I had to get this together. Leaf shutter lenses on some Digital Medium Format bodies will get you up to a 1/1600 sync speed, but with DSLR's its slightly more complicated.

Now that I knew what method I was going to use, the next step was executing it.

I tried a few tests prior to the actual shoot and was having a bit of trouble freezing the right instant. Using my strobes on their absolute lowest power was giving me my fastest flash duration, so I could immediately write that off as the problem. It was the delay between the action happening and my reflexes to trigger the strobes causing me to miss my moment. I complained about it to a friend, Garrett Wade, another Automotive Photographer who happened to be visiting from Florida and he mentioned a way around it that would program out the delay and allow me to trigger the strobes and the perfect instant. I was sold and bought it immediately.

This little piece of ingenious black magic is the Camera Axe.

The Camera Axe is just a small computer board that uses different input sensors to trigger a camera or strobes. The delay is totally customizable so that as you play with your shot you can adjust the amount of delay to get the exact instant you want.

For this shot, I used the audio sensor, just a small microphone that listened for the sound of the glass shattering. After a few tries with different delay settings I settled on 20 milliseconds of delay. Anything shorter didn't get enough of the breaking action and anything longer almost missed it entirely.


In the photo above, you can see the control panel of the Camera Axe. It really is as simple as it looks. Using the arrows to navigate, I just kept adjusting my delay until I got the timing I wanted.

Product Photographers have been on top of this technology forever, with some even building their own versions of the Camera Axe to suit their needs. However, since high speed and flash delay was completely foreign to me, the Camera Axe was a complete lifesaver on this shot.

My day in the studio breaking lightbulbs was a blast. It became a fun back and forth game to smash them and see what I was getting as I adjusted the delay. I actually enjoyed it so much that I keep looking for new excuses to break out the Camera Axe and shoot with it again!

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Matt Kennedy's picture

That's a great piece of gear! Awesome shot too!

What did you use to break the bulb? Did you try any with the light turned on?

Andrew Link's picture

I held them apart from each other and let them go. Then froze them colliding.

Using the flash duration to freeze the motion needs you to shoot in the dark. You leave the shutter open for a few seconds and let the action happen and trigger the flash to light the scene and freeze it. So any with the lights turned on would have just been big blurry lightstreaks due to the 5 second or so exposure.

Magic Lantern does that works cheaper xD

Oh wow!
So much enthusiasm, this must be the greatest product in the world! It saved your life, helped you learn hi-speed photography in a day AND it was so fun to use that you just couldn't stop!
Absolutely amazing, I must get two!!!

Is this the reaction you were expecting?
This blog has gone too low

Andrew Link's picture

I feel bad for you that you've apparently never bought a piece of hear you enjoyed using.

That's exactly the case, I suffer greatly by everything I buy! Are you psychic?? I have to learn how to guess people's entire history from just reading a comment on the internet!

wow, you are a butt!

I really think the writer of this article has been paid for a commercial. This is not a serious review, it's riddled with exaggeration and dreamy descriptions. I know a thing or two about writing reviews and that's he feeling that I get. You can call me names but that's just my opinion, and honestly I don't see how it should hurt you personally, but whatever.

Andrew Link's picture

Would you like me to post a photo of the receipt from when I bought it?

What's with the negativity - achieves nothing, except making you look like a hater. I found this article honest and helpful about achieving a result from a project. I'd be a little disappointed if I found out that it was a paid review being misrepresented, but I wouldn't sook about it or attack the writer.

I think I wasn't clear enough, I didn't mean any harm and my tone might have been harsh. It's hard to be precise with these things with just text. What I meant was that the review was made by someone who is very enthusiastic about the device, which made it biased in my opinion, and looked "too good to be true" to the point of being a commercial (which I still think it is).

I'm deeply sorry if my comment hurt anyone, I tried to delete it but Diqus does not allow that. So don't take it too seriously, it's just a comment on the internet. Have a great weekend :)

For this type of shoots you mast use strobes with very short duration. I am using Broncolor with Bron generator witch generates flashes with t 0.1 = 1/7000, with flash duration shorter than 1/4000 everything get frozen and you do not have to shoot for 1-3 seconds, you can shoot 1/200 with DSLR or 1/400-600 with MF cameras the shatter speed is not crucial . Also you mast shoot with f :18 - 22 to have everything sharp and clean.

How do you get that instant right though? Getting the strobe to fire at the perfect time, and fine tuning it... I think that's where this device comes into it's own.

If you have flashes with t 0,1= 1/5000-7000 it is not so difficult to catch the moment, you can shoot 4-5 frames in the right instant .

Andrew Link's picture

Dave, I wasn't super clear on the whole process and that's my fault. You set the camera to a longer shutter... say 4-5 seconds. You then trigger the camera (in the dark) and let the action happen... then the camera axe triggers the flashes at the right instant which is what freezes the action.

Instead of spending $185 on the Camera Axe, you could buy a TriggerTrap for $100 plus the cable, or get the TT app for free and just buy the cable. It's a neat product (Camera Axe), but I'd like to save my $$ for lenses : ) Awesome lightbulb shot, btw!

I agree with TriggerTrap, the only downside is that you must connect the camera with it with a long cable something not so convenient in a studio. The ideal would be connected wirelessly to the camera and has a range of 5 to 10 meters!

The Traps cable can be extended to meet such a range. You'd get a much better interface and features, for a fifth the price.

I built the same thing on a breadboard for under $10

Very cool!

The facebook newsfeed post asked 'what do you use for high-speed photography?' Well, I'm using a sound trigger (not light/laser trigger) made from:

- old (working) DVD player
- microphone (I use wireless one, more mobile)
- a small electronic component called SCR
- some cable and PC jack to hook the system to a speedlight radio trigger

The microphone serves as the sound trigger. To tweak the delay, it's as primitive as moving the microphone closer or away from the object.

Yeah, it's a ghetto (or poor man's) setup. Of course it got a LOT of limitations, compared to dedicated triggers like the one in this post. I decided I want to try doing some high speed pictures first to see if I'm into it or not. If I really like it, then I'd consider investing in dedicated triggers. Turned out, as much fun as it was, not exactly my cup of coffee, though....

That is actually a lot more interesting and educating than just spending almost $200, good job! I bet you make awesome photos.

Great stuff!

I tried it with a water filled balloon.
worked out quite good.
first try did it

I tried it with a water filled balloon.
worked out quite good.
first try did it