Trevorís Tips for High-Speed Photography with a P&S Digital Camera

by Trevor Shannon

North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics

September, 2005

The photo above of a water balloon colliding with the ground was taken with a Nikon Coolpix 5600. This camera is a fully automatic point-and-shoot style camera. However, with some cheap components and a little ingenuity, it can be used to take high quality high speed photos. Obviously, a trigger of some sort is needed, as well as a flash unit.  The trigger was a homemade sound trigger, and the flash was that on a Kodak FunSaver single-use camera.  The hard part comes from getting the automatic camera to do the things that are quite easy with a manual camera. Some tips for taking high speed photos with a camera like the Nikon 5600 follow.  Information on the trigger and flash are here.

What Not To Do

Set the camera on "fireworks" scene, or any similar slow shutter, low light setting. The camera will automatically focus on infinity, and the photographer cannot override that. While the shutter speed is long enough to give the photographer ample time, the photos will be out of focus (see below).

What To Do

Set the camera on automatic picture mode, with the flash off. Since the room is dark, the camera will automatically set itself to a slower shutter speed.

To focus the camera, shine a flashlight on the subject so the camera has enough light and focus the camera. This is usually done by holding the shutter button down halfway.

Continue holding the shutter button halfway, and shut off the flashlight. Start the event (dropping of a ball, etc.) at the same time you press the shutter down all the way, as the shutter speed is not extremely long.

The flash unit should be fairly far (4 ft.) from the object, or else the photo will be too bright because the camera automatically sets the aperture very large when it is in such a dark environment (see below).

When these steps are completed, the photos obtained are very high quality and look like ones obtained with an expensive manual camera.

More Balloon Photos

Tape constrains the rips to follow particular paths.

Trigger and Flash

The trigger circuit was that given here.  The trigger uses a piezoelectric element to detect sounds.  The flash unit was that on a Kodak FunSaver camera.  Instructions for converting such a camera to use for high-speed photography are given here for an earlier model FunSaver.  Photographs of the wiring for a newer model are given below together with photos of the sound trigger.

The camera before disassembly

Internal connections 
(Caution:  There's a danger of electrical shock from the capacitor.  Be sure to completely discharge the flash capacitor first.

Close-up of the sound trigger components wired on a circuit board

The assembled sound trigger with piezoelectric element to the left.