High Speed Photography

Set up

I initially had an idea relating to the assignment 3 the decisive moment.  My initial idea was to steer away from street photography as per phrase coined by Henri Cartier Bresson and take a risk along the lines of a single point in time that could not occur again, a balloon bursting, water droplets striking a surface.

The first high speed photograph was created by Harold Egerton in 1957, its titled Milk Coronet[1] and is reproduced in the Time 1oo image series.  “Seconds. There it is. Sometimes it’s no use at all. Sometimes it’s tremendous value”

I have experimented before dropping water droplets into liquids, a simple setup but was very much trial and error as to the timing , capturing the water droplet before, during or after was very hit and miss and took a huge number of frames to capture anything worth retaining.  I’m not the first one to come across this, so there must be a way to construct a set up that would allow a number of variables to be consistent to then allow similar results to be obtained and from there change the variables to produce different results.

Images created by Harold Egerton also included bullets fired through apples, playing cards and the like.  I’m pretty certain there would not be any way of convincing my wife this was a good idea!  Balloons, well there’s another thought and probably not too messy.  There are plenty of really good examples of ballon burst images, some of my favourites are by Edward Horsford [2] and this on the Flickr page of Eric Barger [3]

From my previous foray into water droplets if I was going to attempt balloons then I would need to find a way to trigger the camera at the point of the balloon bursting.  The set up was going to be a challenge, filling and fixing the balloons was going to take time so I needed to get the rig and triggering set up correct.  A few google searches led me to discover manufacturers of sound/laser triggers that link directly to flash and camera.  Once of my constraints was money, I didn’t want to expend huge sums of money on a trigger for this to then sit in my gear cupboard.

I came across 2 sets of equipment that I considered useful and of minimal outlay, one of which was by Triggertrap [4]which included a dongle to attach your smartphone to your camera, additionally something to attach their dongle to a speedlight.  The second by Miops[5].  Both can be connected directly to your camera and a smartphone app although the Miops one has more functionality/protection the Triggertrap one was cheaper so I went with that. I must add the Triggertrap kit app can be used for more than detecting balloon bursts.

The Triggertrap kit arrived quickly once I’d placed the order, pretty simple and consisted of a dongle to the smartphone and then a cable to the camera or hot shoe trigger (additional purchase).  Fairly straightforward to set up, I followed the tutorial[6]on their webpages and got together the kit for setting up in my bathroom.  I live in London and didn’t want to set this up outside due to 2 limiting factors

  • At the time of testing it was December and pretty cold to be messing about with water in the evening
  • Due to the light pollution I didn’t want to taint the longer exposure images.

Set up was relatively straightforward in my small bathroom

  • Black backdrop fabric gaffer taped to the white tiles
  • 2 lightstands and cross member to suspend the balloons from
  • something to pop the balloon, I used a stick with needle taped to it
  • Speedlight set in manual mode (sandwich bag for speedlight to keep it dry)
  • Tripod for the camera
  • Remote shutter release
  • Camera
  • Portable stand and laptop placed outside of the bathroom (not entirely necessary but I found it easier to review the images on the laptop screen during a tethered Lightroom session)
  • Triggertrap dongle
  • Lots of balloons, water, food colouring
  • Towels to wipe up water and a lens cloth to wipe off any splashes on the lens, if you’re floor is wet then it will get very slippery and you don’t need to slip over in a confined space and hurt yourself.
  • Smartphone and Triggertrap app – I’m using an iPhone 7 which is waterproof, if your smartphone isn’t waterproof then you’ll need to place it in a sandwich bag or similar
  • Send wife out for the day shopping, its expensive but this is messy!

carlgoodwin_07_12_2016

Bursting of the balloons

Initial testing was quite promising, rather than wasting balloons I was clapping to set the sound level on the app, I did find that if you set the level too low when you activated the camera the sound of the mirror flipping up triggered the flash.  You also need to ensure there is not any extraneous light in the room (turn the phone over so the display is covered) otherwise you will get ghost images recorded of the balloon before it bursts, this is evident below in the top right and bottom left images.

Once I’d set up after a couple of test runs to check the flash output levels I was satisfied of the process,

  1. Turn off light
  2. Close bathroom door
  3. Open Shutter on camera
  4. stab balloon with pointy stick – ‘pop’
  5. close shutter

Try not to trip/slip over turning light back on!

Its worthwhile mentioning that this point keeping the length of time the shutter is open to a minimum helps here.

For each balloon I managed to get the filling up, timing up and popping into an average of 5 minutes per balloon.

Review

From the initial set of images I’m quite pleased by how these have turned out as a first attempt.  They can be improved upon and any further setups would include

An additional speedlight, placed camera left

A painted stick in black

Review of location as my bathroom is quite small

Complimentary combinations of balloon colours and dye additive

Thickener in the water to limit the number of finer droplets

Experimentation with powder instead of water

So there we have it, a bit if fun, a bit messy, relatively inexpensive in the grand scheme of things and a good learning experience.

 

Bibliography

[1] http://100photos.time.com/photos/harold-edgerton-milk-drop – accessed 5/2/17

[2] https://www.edwardhorsford.com/balloons – accessed 5/2/17

[3] Balloon burst – accessed 5/2/17

[4]Trigger trap webpage – accessed 5/2/17

[5]Miops Web page – accessed 5/2/17

[6] Trigger trap blog post accessed 5/2/17

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