In this guide, as you may have understood from the title, I will talk about high speed photography and let’s start immediately by saying when this technique is used: high speed photography is used when you want to shoot fast moving objects and you do it by capturing a series of images with a very high frame rate. If we wanted to introduce some sort of numerical threshold, we could say that this technique requires an exposure time of almost 1 / 20,000 of a second to capture this type of moment and movement. In practice, this type of photography is widely used today, for example in the sports field: think of those who photograph the detachment in the penalty area of an attacker giving a header in the air, or those who photograph a passing Formula 1 car at 320 km / h on a straight line. But it is also widely used in the naturalistic and scientific fields. To be honest, high-speed photos are among the most fascinating of modern photography but they are also very complicated to do: there is nothing random in these shots and, in this guide, I will give you some tips on how to take them or at least on how to approach this technique.
The camera (DSLR)
The first thing you may be wondering is: what kind of camera should I use for high speed photography? The answer is very simple: you need a DSLR. DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex. It is therefore a camera with a fixed digital sensor, a single lens to frame, focus and take the photograph and it is a Reflex to the extent that it is based on a system in which a mirror (fixed or semi-transparent) that divides or directs incoming light towards the optical viewfinder.
Why is the lens important in high-speed photography? Or rather, when is the use of a good lens essential in high-speed photography? Again the answer is very simple. If you find yourself in front of an ice stalactite and want to film the drop of water that comes off the tip of the ice due to gravity, you have no particular needs in terms of objective. The situation is different when you are not close to the subject. Let’s go back to the example of Formula 1: it is very likely that you will find yourself shooting from a grandstand and in any case no less than 50 meters from your subject. Well in this case, with a telephoto zoom lens between 70 and 300 mm you can easily cover your field of action, managing to obtain the desired definition even if you are not physically close to your subject. So put the right lens in your bag before going out for the shooting.
We come to what is perhaps a crucial setting when it comes to high-speed photography, namely the shutter speed. It is obvious that you will have to set the shutter speed to very short times when photographing a high-speed scenario: an average range from which to start could be that of 1/500, sufficient, for example, to shoot the aforementioned footballer without no blur. Another interesting example: if you set the shutter speed to 1/1000 you will be able to “stop” with your photo, the blades of a fan or the flight of a super sonic jet, always without having the slightest blur. In practice, you will also go beyond the capabilities of the human eye. Having very fast shutter speeds means not allowing light to reach the sensor but this is compensated for with a high ISO, along with a wider aperture like / f4.
You will need a lot of memory cards with all this fast-paced action. I carried a portable hard drive with me and downloaded the contents of the card while still shooting. This is no longer necessary as 64GB large capacity cards are now very reasonably priced. Shoot in RAW format whenever possible for maximum control and best photo quality. If you’re short on memory cards, you might want to consider shooting in the Large / Fine JPEG format. This will allow you to fit more images on the card than RAW. There are some hectic situations where it is not possible to shoot in RAW. For sports photography, I prefer the JPEG Large / Fine setting. This offers a larger buffer size that allows you to take more frames before getting full. For example, a modern DSLR can shoot 31 RAW shots consecutively, but a whopping 1090 in JPEG. This is a huge plus for those who never want to miss a moment. By starting with a JPEG file, you also reduce the extra step of processing RAW photos when you get home.
Controlling your camera’s flash is one of the secrets of good high-speed photography. The usual interval used to obtain the perfect freezing movement is between 1/800 and 1/2000 of a second. If you know how to use the flash correctly, it doesn’t matter what shutter speed you use; a flash is capable of freezing objects or “freezing” scenes when its light explodes. Imagine yourself in the middle of the dance floor. The house lights are off, but the strobe lights are on and blinking. Don’t the people around you appear suspended or frozen in their actions? This is the kind of effect a flash has on a scene. And this is one of the reasons why many photographers prefer to use the “flash method” to take pictures at high speed, as opposed to the “shutter speed method”. In other words, they focus more on the flash than the shutter speed. What these photographers do is choose a dark place or room to shoot, open the shutter, activate the flash and then close the shutter. Trigger delay and strobe flash delay do not affect photo output. Timing is more consistent, as is exposure speed.