High-speed photography is something that I’ve wanted to do since a couple of weeks or maybe even a few months. I love the images that it creates and I love the technique too (I’ll go over that in a bit). The only thing for me that held me back for so long, is that the space that I have to pull something like that off, is about two square meters or 21 square feet (if the unit conversion thing isn’t fooling me). I also don’t have any background papers or stuff like that (until I found something). But today, as I was bored, I set all these technical limitations aside and just started building up my set and started firing images and along the way I improved and improved.
First, the technique I was going for, as it is probably quite a bit different from what you’d expect. First thing is to get the ambient light as low as possible, I did this by simply closing the curtains, but it would’ve been even better if I would’ve done this at night or in a darker room. Then I set my camera so that the shutter speed is really low, somewhere around a second (yep, sounds crazy doesn’t it?). Now I set the aperture so that when I take a photo, I can barely see my subject or I can’t see it at all. And now comes the magic part: I set up my flash somewhere to the side of the subject (you could use multiple flashes if you have them) and I try to keep the light falling on the background as minimal as possible (you could do this using a grid if you have one, or by putting a piece of black cardboard to the side of your flash and attach it with a rubberband), I was a little bit lousy on this one, but it was good enough the way it was. You don’t have to connect the flash to a wireless trigger, but it does help since you want to fire the flash by hand at the exact right moment. The intensity of the flash is what you’ll have to figure out all by yourself through trial and error. Start low (1/64 or something) and take photos increasing the intensity every time until your subject is well lit.
Now here’s how you take the photo: first, you focus on your subject, might need a flashlight or something for this, then when it’s focused correctly, put your lens/camera in manual focus. Now you press the shutter release. Then you do whatever action you want, in my case, dropping something into a glass of water. And at the moment of impact, you press the flash button to stop the action. Remember, the flash stops the action, not the shutter. (Quote from Chase Jarvis, in this helpful video) It’ll take a few tries to get the timing right, but it won’t be too hard.
For the background, you’re going to want something clean looking. I prefer black, but white is also an option. Your choice. At first I was in trouble, because all I had was my blue wall, but then I figured I could turn my reflection-screen into a black background. My setup looked sort of like this:
The black screen definitely helped a lot, the blue background is just not it, here’s without the black screen:
And here’s with the black screen, these are the best two shots:
The good thing about a black background, is that you can easily make it totally black by tweaking your curves/levels a bit to get a very clean background.
I hope this post was helpful and that you’ll try it out your self, believe me, it’s a lot of fun and not that hard. I’ll definitely give it another try someday too. I also hope you like the two shots. Please tell me all about your tries and about what you think of my shots in the comments.