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.
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.
How to shoot high speed photography and freeze action with hotshoe flash
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.
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 camera you’re using). This should stop any ghost blur.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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