Monday, June 20, 2011

7 Contemporary High-Speed Photographers

If you ever tried taking a photograph of a running dog or a fast moving car you must have noticed it is quite a difficult task. Even with the most generous lighting conditions and very good lenses normal photography equipment is unable to capture sharp images of extremely fast motion due to the familiar effect of motion-blur. That's where special High Speed Photography equipment and a lot of experience and knowhow get into the picture... High Speed Photography is the art and science of taking of motion picture film, video or still photos of extremely fast phenomena such as explosions and detonations; water splashes; gunshots and other extreme high-speed actions.

* Note: This article was originally published on January 25, 2008. It got lost during a major CultCase crash and was republished on June, 2011.

The first practical application of high-speed photography is attributed to Eadweard Muybridge for his famous horse feet research. Later innovators such as of Eastman Kodak's, Bell Labs', Wollensak Optical's, Redlake Laboratories' and others further developed the equipment allowing up to 10,000 frames in a single second, even though most modern equipment is usually a bit slower that that. The Photron APX camera, for example, is capable of high resolution capturing of 1024 x 1024 images at 2000FPS or 1024 x 512 ones in 4000FPS.

Apparently, a few physical and chemical phenomena are way too fast to be captured even via a 10,000 FPS camera. Some stages in nuclear explosions occur in the speed of light or in other words exactly 299,792,458 meters per second. That was just too fast for any device to be able to capture until the 1940s when Harold E. Edgerton, AKA the "Doc" introduced us with a new ultra high-speed technique titled Stroboscopic Photography.

The amazing images shown above taken by Edgerton in the early 50s show the growing hit and shock fireballs about one millisecond after nuclear detonation. Using his Rapatronic cameras Edgerton managed to take such nuclear detonation photographs with the amazing exposure time of up to 10 billionths of a second. For making Stroboscopy and High Speed photography what they are today Edgerton (below) won many awards including the SMPTE Progress Medal in 1959 and the Eastman Kodak Gold Medal Award in 1983.

Lucky for us and right from the start, Edgerton's work was in no way limited to the physics of nuclear detonations. In 1937 Edgerton's "Coronet" milk drop photo was featured in the first photography exhibit of New York Museum of Modern Art's. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Edgerton was also of the first photographers to take high-speed shots of subjects commonly experimented by contemporary photographers. He took the pictures of athletes (1938), hummingbirds hovering (1953), bullets bursting balloons (1959) and blood coursing through capillaries (1964), and set up the path for countless of enthusiastic followers. "Self-Portrait with Balloon and Bullet" for example (below), was taken in 1959 but still looks fresh and stylish.

Today, following the path-breaking achievements of Edgerton and other High Speed Photography innovators and as technology become cheaper and more affordable, high-speed photographers became more common. What was once a technical scientific occupation is today a popular form of art attracting countless of enthusiasts across the world. Thus, fueled by the power of Internet, countless of High Speed Photo fans are able to freeze time and share fractions of their reality with you and me.

The following is a selection of seven outstanding contemporary High Speed photographers and some of their work. While some of them are already famous and others don't even have a name, each one of them has his own unique visual language. Enjoy.

1. fotofrog

Based in Hagen, Germany fotofrog has been photographing for over 20 years with his main interests being High speed photography, infrared and macro. Gunshot and impact photos are pretty common nowadays but fotofrog spices them up with a with some thrill and danger, combining his model hands in the shot, very close to the action. A word of advice from fotofrog: don't try this at home.

2. Kai Kuusisto

The photos Kai Kuusisto, AKA kaintero, takes with bicycle rider Antti Koljonen particularly interesting as they always combine some drama or a good sense of humor with their high speed subject. Other than a great High Speed photographer this 27 years old great looking dude from Helsinki, Finland is also a bmx rider and a civil engineer. Stylish. You can also meet him on MySpace or read this recent article from

3. Andrew Davidhazy

Professor Andrew Davidhazy of the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology is one of the most outstanding experts for High Speed Photography worldwide. His photos include everything from Gunshots, Splashes and Dripping water to Schlieren and Photoinstrumentation Photographs.

4. Greg Scott

Hummingbirds are living helicopters made by nature. They can fly forward, backward, up, down, and even upside-down. Their wings' motion changes its angle with each flap. Unlike other birds, hummingbirds flap their wings horizontally in the shape of a figure 8 and do that on an average rate of 50 times per second. During courtship Hummingbirds' wings can speed up to 200 times a second. The above photos were all taken at 1/33000 sec, using an Olsen custom flash. Click them and have a look at the high-res versions. In my humble opinion, considering the way these birds were moving while being photographed, the level of details and focus here is simply amazing.

5. breic

Water and milk splash photos are amongst the most popular High Speed Photography subjects and it's not easy to make a difference. There is not much publicly known about breic except for being a north American and
having a unique visual language for a spectacular set of milk color splash photos. The above milk splashing onto black plastic photos include food coloring. Lighting: Vivitar 283 (without diffusion) at camera right, aluminum foil reflector at left. ISO100, f/38.

6. Pulse Photonics

There are many great companies out there doing fabulous High Speed work. Yet Pulse Photonics has been in business for more than 25 years during which time it has supplied lighting and cameras for many scientific research disciplines. The wealth of experience gained during this period is clearly shown in their work and has gained them the only slot on this article devoted to a company rather than an artist. Some of the bullet photos taken by Pulse Photonics, such as the above "Bullet through metal" for example, are within the level of art. At least I would gladly have one in my living room for what it counts.

7. bowie22

Other than being a "taken" young man bowie22 from Kingsport, Tennessee has a special talent for drop and reflection photos. For me drop and reflection photos are of the most interesting High Speeds due to the clean look of the water surface, the shape of the drop serving as a mirror and the additional requirement of macro techniques.

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