Think of a camera as simply a light-tight box that has a) an imaging element (lens or pinhole), b) a recording medium (film, tape, magnetic memory), and c) controls to adjust the exposure of the medium. We discuss these features as they relate to high-speed flash photography in this section. The use of conventional film cameras is covered on this page. The methods described are generally applicable to the use of digital still and motion video cameras. Information specific to those cameras is provided from the links on the Contents Menu under Cameras.
Using a Conventional Film Camera to Photograph High-Speed Phenomena
The camera that one uses for high-speed photography need not have the capability for high shutter speeds, because the duration of the exposure is determined by the flash rather than the shutter. In fact, the camera shutter is held open (in the dark) before the flash discharges. This means that the camera must have either a B (bulb) or long exposure settings. The lens should have manual focusing and an adjustable aperture. The selection of the aperture is determined by the automatic exposure setting used on the flash. A medium speed film such as ISO 400 is satisfactory. The higher the film speed, the smaller the lens aperture can be, thus providing greater depth-of-field. Two suitable and inexpensive cameras that are no longer being made but can be found used are the Pentax K-1000 and the Olympus OM-1. These are just two examples from many. Any SLR camera with the option for full manual control is fine. Note that point-and-shoot cameras are generally not usable for high-speed photography, because they typically don't provide the manual controls described above.
Photographs are usually made in a darkened room. It's a good idea to have a featureless background to avoid interference with the subject. However, the background should not be placed too close to the subject. In the latter case, even a black background can produce undesirable glare or shadows.
With flash, camera, and trigger positioned as desired, the shutter of the camera is held open on the B setting in readiness for the discharge of the flash. After the discharge, the shutter is released and the room lights turned on.
A few useful accessories are a tripod and a cable release. Two types of cable releases are shown to the right. The cable on a spool is an air release. Its 15-foot length make it especially useful when the photographer must be positioned far from the camera. Such situations arise frequently in taking high-speed photographs.