A wine glass shattering, a hummingbird hovering over a brightly colored flower, a water balloon splattering over someone’s head — these fleeting moments once left to memory can be frozen in time through the use of high-speed photography. High-speed, or fast-action, photography is the process used to capture instantaneous action and pick up details imperceptible even to the human eye. High-speed photography is shot in a way that reduces motion blur so the action appears to freeze. The technique involves three basic elements — method (your equipment), moment (the timing of the action) and duration (the timing of the camera).
Once the domain of professionals using expensive equipment, high-speed photography is now accessible to the average shutterbug. With the advanced technology of a Canon DSLR camera, it’s easier than ever to photograph spontaneous, fast-paced action.
Grab your camera and see how simple it is to capture the impact of a water balloon exploding on a person’s head. All you’ll need are the right camera settings — and maybe a poncho.
• DSLR camera
• SDHC memory cards
• Water balloons
• An assistant and willing participants
Any photo shoot involving splashing water may get a little wet. If you’re photographing a bunch of bursting water balloons, you may want to take some waterproofing precautions. Most of Canon’s “L” lenses are weather resistant and can withstand a few splashes, but you should store extra memory cards and accessories in your waterproof camera bag or secure them in plastic baggies.
Keep a couple of towels on hand so your subject can dry off after the shoot and to wipe down any equipment that gets wet.
1. Choose Your Shooting Method
Regardless of your skill level, it’s easy to take amazing fast-action shots. There are two basic ways available, using either Sports mode or the shutter-speed method. Sports mode is the best place to start if you’re new to high-speed photography. More experienced photographers may choose to experiment with the shutter-speed method, which offers more precise control over camera settings.
Sports mode, available on Rebel models, lets novice photographers capture high-quality action without manually adjusting every setting. The camera will automatically apply settings based on traditional characteristics of the typical fast-action scene. In Sports mode, the camera automatically selects a fast shutter speed and an appropriate aperture setting. It also disables the flash. The disadvantage of shooting in Sports mode is the lack of control over shutter speed. If the camera doesn’t choose a sufficiently fast shutter speed for your subject, the action may appear blurry in the image.
To set your camera to Sports mode, turn the Mode dial on the top of the camera to the Sports icon. Use the Quick Control screen to adjust simple settings related to image color, exposure and lighting.
The shutter-speed method provides greater control over the process. Shutter speed is the most vital component in taking crisp action shots, especially outdoors. To freeze motion without blurriness, you need to shoot at a much higher shutter speed than normal. This speed can vary based on the kind of action you’re trying to capture. For example, you can capture a person walking using a shutter speed in the 1/250th sec or 1/500th sec range, but you’ll need to use a shutter speed between 1/1000th sec and 1/4000th sec to capture a bursting water balloon.
In Tv (Shutter Priority) mode, you can choose an exact shutter speed and the camera automatically selects an appropriate aperture for the light conditions. If the aperture number in the viewfinder is blinking during your attempt to take a picture, this indicates there isn’t enough light present to acquire proper exposure and the ISO (camera sensitivity) should be increased to balance out the exposure. When using Tv mode, it’s best to shoot outside on a bright day, with your subject and background fully illuminated.
When choosing a lens to capture fast action, the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM is a compact, standard zoom lens with image stabilization and continuous autofocus (AF) features that are essential for handheld high-speed photography on-the-go.
2. Make Adjustments
A fast shutter speed alone may not be enough to capture fast action. To successfully freeze motion, photographers should consider the three pillars of photography — shutter speed, ISO and aperture. Shooting at a higher shutter speed means your image may be darker because less light reaches the sensor. In that case, it may be necessary to adjust your camera’s sensitivity to light and/or use a lower f-stop setting.
Whether you’re working in Sports or Shutter Priority mode, test different ISO settings to see which one gets the best results.
3. Setting the Scene
You’ll probably have to burst a lot of balloons before you perfect your high-speed photography technique. Grab an assistant, choose your location and practice dropping water balloons onto inanimate objects before subjecting your live model to a spontaneous drenching. Try releasing the balloons from various heights to get a sense of the timing of impact.
Determine where the focal point for your image will be. To draw the viewer’s eye to the impact, focus on the spot where the balloon will break — the top of your subject’s head, for example. If you want to capture the balloon in motion, AI Servo mode will engage the AF tracking system, which will follow the movement of the object.
For the best reaction shot, shoot your subject’s face straight on as the balloon lands. Showing facial expressions in action heightens the emotion in your image. Although you may capture more detail shooting the bursting balloon at the highest speed, a little blur at the point of impact will add texture and a sense of motion to your composition.
4. Use Continuous Shooting
When shooting fast-action movement, you’ll increase your chances of capturing the impact using Continuous Shooting in Drive Mode. Continuous Shooting allows you to capture about 4.5 frames per second or higher (depending on your camera model), so you don’t need to worry about the exact timing of the moment of impact. This mode will quickly fill your memory cards, so use large-capacity cards with fast writing speeds to ensure your camera’s ability to take more shots in a single burst.
Bringing It All Together
The key to great high-speed photography is instinct. With practice, any budding photographer can capture those blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em moments. And with a Canon DSLR camera, you can get those fast-paced shots with expert precision and clarity.
The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.