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!