Time Freezing with Photography

The human eye, combined with the processing power of the brain, is a remarkable tool for seeing action, however, even this complex network of cells has its limits and, luckily, we have tools that can extend the range of our ability to resolve action.

The primary tools are a high shutter speed and/or a high speed electronic flash. We can start capturing those bits of hidden action when our shutter speed is set to 1/1000th second or shorter. At a certain point, moving a mechanical shutter at a high speed becomes a real engineering challenge so a high speed electronic flash is used where speeds of one millionth of a second are possible.

In the images below, I used an electronic flash to freeze a moment in time. In the pictures of the bouncing tennis ball I combined both the long exposure, time lapse technique and the high speed flash on a single frame of film.

The next three images were made by forcing an automatic electronic flash to fire for its shortest interval. (See the Speedy Flash link to the left.) The connector cord from the flash, its trigger, was wired to the handle of the metal hammer and to a small piece of aluminum foil, taped to the top of the glass object. When the hammer touched the foil, the flash would fire.

The area was darkened, the camera was placed on a tripod, shutter was set on "B" and locked open with a locking cable release. The hammer was swung and struck the foil, firing the flash and breaking the object.

The aperture setting was determined by making some test exposures.

In these images of the bouncing tennis ball, a similar setup was used. The camera was place on a tripod, the area darkened, and the shutter locked open. However, in this case the electronic flash was wired to a toggle switch that could be thrown manually. This was a 2-pole, three position switch. An incandescent desk lamp was placed to the left and also wired to the same toggle switch, although on different poles. So, in the middle switch position, no lights are on. In one of the two remaining positions, it would turn on the desk lamp. Flip it over all the way to the opposite position and it turned off the desk lamp and fired the flash.

Hidden out of view was a piece of rain gutter through which the ball would be rolled. It was adjusted to give the desired "bounce." In the end of the gutter a small piece of crumpled paper was taped so that the ball could be heard when rolling over it and that was the signal to turn on the desk lamp. After a moment, the switch was thrown in the opposite direction, turning off the desk lamp and firing the flash.