Using your flash and split-second timing to shoot high-speed photography of water balloons exploding can create spectacular results. In this tutorial we’ll show you step-by-step how to do it.
High-speed photography can be used to capture some spectacular images, but the technique requires a great deal of preparation, precision and patience. There are a few technical challenges to overcome, particularly when it comes to timing, and it’s very much a case of trial and error – but it’s also great fun!
In this tutorial we’ll show you how to create your own high-speed photography setup in your garden, to capture amazing images of a water-filled balloon bursting. In order to freeze the action at the exact moment the balloon bursts we’ll use a camera-mounted flashgun and remote shutter release.
Once you’ve nailed the exposure and timing you can experiment with different backdrops, and add food colouring to the water, to create a variety of effects. But be warned that high-speed photography can become addictive: once you pop you just can’t stop!
How to set up your camera to shoot high-speed photography
01 Location and set-up
For this shoot you’ll need a number of props, and perhaps an assistant to help you out. Find a suitable location, such as a garden or a bathroom, as a fair amount of water will be involved. You’ll need to be able to hang a backdrop, and a water balloon in front of it – we used a washing line in the garden.
02 Prepare the props
Once you’ve hung your backdrop, take a balloon and tip in a few drops of food colouring, then fill it with water and tie it up. Tie some string around the neck, and hang it in front of the backdrop.
Tape a pin to the end of a long stick so that you don’t have to stand too close to the balloon when it bursts; when you edit the image it’ll be easier to clone out a stick than your hand and arm, and it’ll also save you from getting wet!
03 Camera settings
Place your camera on a tripod and set it to Manual mode. Set a narrow aperture of f/11 to capture a broad depth of field, so that you can get as much of the action as possible in focus. Set your shutter speed to 1/200 sec to sync with the flashgun, and keep the ISO at 100 for maximum image quality.
04 Flash setup
Attach the flashgun to the hotshoe of your camera (if you don’t have one you can use your on-body flash). Set it to E-TTL mode, and dial in +1 stop of flash exposure compensation. You may need to adjust the power, depending on the light conditions; take a few test shots of the balloon before you pop it.
Set your lens to AF (auto focus) and focus on the balloon, then switch the lens to Manual focus to lock the focus – otherwise there may be a delay as the camera ‘hunts’ for focus when you fire the shutter, and split-second timing is absolutely critical. Alternatively, you could switch to Live View, zoom in on the rear LCD, and adjust the focus ring until the balloon appears sharp.
06 Take a test shot
Use a remote release to fire the shutter if you have one – we found this more reliable than pressing the shutter button on the camera. Try to pop the balloon and fire the shutter simultaneously; if you find it hard to do this, get an assistant to pop the balloon while you fire the shutter, and do a countdown. It may take a few attempts to get this right.
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