High speed photography: how to use flash, not shutter speed, to freeze action

    | Photography Tips | 05/02/2014 00:01am

    Discover how to stop high-speed action with hotshoe flash. In this tutorial we show you an alternative high-speed photography technique that doesn’t require a super-fast shutter speed.

    High speed photography: how to use flash, rather than shutter speed, to freeze action

    A flashgun is a superb tool for freezing action in high speed photography, but you need to know what you’re doing if you are going to make time stand still with your strobe.

    Get it right and you can get perfectly sharp shots, even when your subject is moving very quickly, without the need for a super-fast shutter speed.

    In this high-speed photography project we’re going to take a look at how to use fairly simple, affordable equipment (a couple of hotshoe flashguns and a set of wireless flash triggers) to freeze the action of a dancer mid-leap.

    The secret to this high speed photography technique is using the very short duration of the flash – as short as 1/40,000th of a second.

    If everything else in the room is dark, the light emitted from the flash effectively becomes your camera’s shutter speed, making it perfect for capturing motion.

    Aside from the camera kit and a sizeable space, you’ll also need a few other items, including a black background that’s wide enough to give your dancer enough room to allow her to leap, and a trio of tripods to hold and position your strobes and your DSLR.

    We used a black theatrical drape, but a paper roll would do. Alternatively, shoot outdoors at night and use the night as your black background make sure you have plenty of dark empty space.

    This high speed photography technique works with any fast-moving subject. It’s great for taking pictures of children, who will have fun leaping for a photo. So with your strobes at the ready, here’s how to capture the shot.

    SEE MORE: 8 common flash photography mistakes every photographer makes

    How to shoot high speed photography and freeze action with hotshoe flash

    How to shoot high speed photography with hotshoe flash: step 1

    01 Installing the backdrop
    First, set up the backdrop. We’re using a black serge background that absorbs the light. This is usually supported using a photographic background stand, but here we were able to attach it to a wall using clips. As the dancer leaps she’ll be surrounded by the black.


    How to shoot high speed photography with hotshoe flash: step 2

    02 Camera setup
    As you’re using the flashguns to expose the shot, set the camera to Manual with an aperture of f/5.6 and shutter speed of 1/250 or 1/200 (whichever is the maximum flash synchronisation speed for the Nikon camera you’re using). This should stop any ghost blur.


    How to shoot high speed photography with hotshoe flash: step 3

    03 Flash configuration
    Put the camera on a tripod. Attach the wireless flash transmitter to the hotshoe and the receivers to the flashguns. Switch everything on and hit the test button on the transmitter to check that everything is communicating. Finally, put the flashguns on tripods or stands.

    SEE MORE: Flash photography made easy: master everything from pop-up flash to multiple flashguns

    How to shoot high speed photography with hotshoe flash: step 4

    04 Positioning the flashguns
    Position the flashguns either side of the backdrop. Extend the tripods to about shoulder height, then angle the heads of the flashguns up and slightly towards where the dancer will leap, and add diffusers to help soften the light when fired. Now set both flashes to manual.


    How to shoot high speed photography with hotshoe flash: step 5

    05 Flashgun power
    Adjust the power of both flashes to a half. Then, with the dancer in position in front of the backdrop, take a shot to check the exposure. Increase or decrease the power of the flashes as required. Once the exposure is sorted, attach a shutter release cable.


    How to shoot high speed photography with hotshoe flash: step 6

    06 Taking the shot
    The best way to get the timing for the shot right is to count the dancer in, then watch the jump rather than look through the viewfinder. When she’s at the height of her leap, press the shutter release to catch it. It takes a few attempts to get the timing right!

    Final Tip
    Use Photoshop to darken the background – use the Quick selection tool to select the background, then refine the edge and use the Dodge tool to darken.


    10 common exposure problems every photographer faces (and how to fix them)
    Flash photography tips: external flash techniques anyone can understand
    Snoot lighting: how to take moody Strobist portraits using your hotshoe flash
    Off-camera flash: how to stop fearing your flashgun and take control of lighting

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5th, 2014 at 12:01 am under Photography Tips.

    Tags: ,

    Share This Page