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Electronic Guidebook for High-Speed Flash Photography

revised 12-00

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High-speed photography is easy  That's one of the messages of this guidebook. I've been teaching middle- and high-school students how to take high-speed photographs since 1984. My guiding principle has been to use inexpensive and accessible equipment. This lets the students concentrate on devising ingenious techniques to capture dramatic photographs. 


I've recently started using digital cameras, and that increases equipment expense.  The advantage is that students see their photos immediately and can make informed decisions about how to make changes in their experiments.


High-speed photography is educational  I've been teaching for 28 years, primarily at the high-school level, although I've also taught middle school and university students. My content area is physics and physical science. I find that the students' interest perks up whenever I show high-speed photographs or demonstrate high-speed phenomena that relate to what I'm teaching. Some students have pursued extended research projects on particular phenomena. High-speed tools provide an exciting way to learn about the everyday environment that we don't normally see.


High-speed photography is rewarding  There's great satisfaction in photographing phenomena that are normally invisible. Besides revealing things that you've never seen before, you may discover something that no one has seen before. In addition to the intrinsic rewards, there are more tangible ones. For example, photographs taken by my students have earned photographic and scientific awards, have been exhibited in art galleries and science centers, and have been published in journals, textbooks, and electronic media.


Know the basics  When I teach high-speed photography, I usually start with the basics of taking pictures. That includes handling and focusing a camera, determining shutter speed and aperture combinations, and composing the photograph. This guidebook only covers those topics as they directly relate to taking high-speed photographs. Therefore, some knowledge of photography fundamentals is assumed. Having a black-and-white darkroom is also helpful, especially if you want your students to have quick turnaround on seeing the results of their photographic projects.  If you use digital cameras and computers for image processing, the turnaround is even quicker.


A little bit of electronics goes a long way  I didn't know much electronics when I built my first sound trigger. You don't need to know much either to put together the circuits needed to trigger your flash unit. In the Tools section of this web site, you'll find all the basic circuit diagrams with parts lists and sources. If you know how to read circuit diagrams and have done some soldering and used a circuit breadboard, you can easily handle the electronics. If not, you can get started with a how to book from your local electronics store. If you'd rather not do the electronics, you can purchase excellent ready-made triggers from companies that specialize in such things. But be prepared to spend $500 or more rather than the $5 for a do-it-yourself trigger.


Fancy equipment not needed  Some people think that special cameras are needed to capture high-speed action. While that's one way to do it, another way is to use a short burst of light from a flash unit. This is the method used for all the activities in this guidebook. For that method, four main components are needed: 1) a manual camera, 2) film, 3) an automatic flash unit, 4) a trigger. Here's more information on these components.


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