High speed photography with the Pluto Trigger

High speed photography is, as the name implies, the shooting of fast subjects. Max Verstappen rushing his Red Bull past Lewis Hamilton can be captured with high-speed photography. But what I'm talking about is an extreme kind of high-speed photography. Blasting a balloon filled with colored water or shooting a glass of beer with an air rifle. (That's a shame, ... actually)

A number of objects are very suitable for shooting or destroying. Think of water-filled balloons, glasses, old-fashioned light bulbs or soft drink cans.

I once tried to shoot an old Westmalle glass. Even with a big air gun with a pointed pellet didn’t do the trick. The pellet bounced off and I found it on the floor with a bend point.

I have already had a ricochet diabolo pellet on my face a few times. Not so pleasant,…

2 milliseconds after the 'bang'.

Some people just don't like Heineken,...

Most of you will think that you need a special camera. That is not true. If you can adjust the shutter speed, the aperture and the ISO value manually on your camera, you’re good to go!

So, what do you need?

  • A camera
  • Two or three speedlights
  • A good tripod
  • An electronic trigger
  • Dustpan and brush, vacuum cleaner, mop and stuff like that, ...

I use my 90mm macro lens for water drops and 'dancing paint drops'. I use my 28-70 mm lens for balloons and glasses. And another thing,... a tripod is absolutely necessary.

First of all, you must understand that something that you shoot with an air rifle will move so fast that it cannot be captured with the shutter speed of the camera. The only thing you can use to freeze your subject is light, flash light to be precise.

Flash light of the speed light is much faster than your shutter speed of your camera. You use two or three speedlights to be able to expose your subject well and you ensure that they go off at the right time, so that you get a nice action photo. As I said before you need to 'freeze' a popping balloon with a very short flash. I usually use 3 speedlights to illuminate the object. If you use the speedlight on the weakest power, the flash is the shortest and the photo will be sharp and no movement will be visible. Of course you also have the least amount of light so you have to experiment with the power of the speedlights, the aperture and the ISO to get the best results.

Some modules in the Pluto app.

The speedlight method with the Pluto Trigger

A good camera has a shortest shutter speed of 1/8000 second. To capture a beer glass that is shot or a popping balloon that is too slow. That is why you have to do this with the 'flash method'. An indispensable tool is an electronic trigger. For example, the Pluto Trigger. There are more triggers available such as the FreezeBox, Miops, the StopShot Studio from Cognisys and Yongnuo.

You control the Pluto Trigger with an app on your smartphone.
The device has several sensors with which you can trigger the camera or the speedlight. Sound, laser interruption, movement, IR, etc. The app also uses the sensors of the phone. For example, the GPS or the microphone or the camera of your phone. So, using the GPS, you could set up the camera in your car and let it make a shot every 100m or so you travel. I don't know why you would,... but it is possible,...

This kind of high-speed photography takes place in the dark. In the dark, the camera does not determine how long the sensor is exposed but the flash duration does. With a click of my fingers, the Pluto Trigger opens the shutter of the camera via IR. The speedlights are connected to the Pluto Trigger with cables. I set the shutter speed of the camera to 1.3 (or 1.6) seconds. Within that time, for example, the sound of an air pressure gun will trigger the Pluto Trigger and that will make the speedlights go off. The shutter closes after 1.3 (or 1.6) seconds.

You can adjust the power of the flash. I use the Godox TT685S. This flash has 1/32, 1/64 and 1/128. The weaker the power, the shorter the flash lasts. With this you can simulate a 'shutter speed' to 1/30000 to 1/35000 second. You will have to adjust the aperture and the ISO value, depending on the power you set the speedlights.

Some Christmas baubles filled with coloured milk. On the left you can see the diabolo pellet.

Finally, I want to give you another tip; work safely! If you shoot a light bulb or a glass, the shards fly in all directions. Wear safety goggles and try to keep your distance. You can also position yourself behind a sheet or wear protective clothing.

Have fun, and have a look at the Pluto Trigger website!

On the 'How to' page you will find some links to pages with some explaination on how I make high-speed shots with the Pluto Trigger or the Freezebox..


Wim van Bezouw
Stormstraat 3
5121 TJ Rijen
The Netherlands