I may not be Superman, but with the help of The Time Machine made by Mumford Micro Systems, I can achieve photographing things at high speed. On occasion, I get asked how I Photoshopped the images in my portfolio with the bullets. I'm always shocked when confronted with this question because there was no Photoshopping involved.
"They're real," I say, "I trained in high speed photography at Brooks... including ballistics."
Lock, Stock, and Barrel... well sort of.
Our ballistics class consisted of shooting things, blowing things up, and destroying a lot of stuff in the name of Science and Photography... one word: Awesome. We used acoustic sensors, IR laser beams, and optical interrupters to achieve our still photos. We also had the chance to test high speed video with The Phantom for a day, but most of the assignments revolved around still photography.
To be able to take photos of the speeding bullets, Brooks had a specially designed room in the basement of the old Montecito estate. Please do not try this at home, it requires a specially designed room... in the basement of a mansion. The room was equipped with a bullet drop at the end of a small narrow passage. There was a small archway between this small chamber and the rest of the dungeon, I mean basement, that allowed for the camera to get a view.
This was a 4 person operation
This person setup their subject to be photographed and operated the camera on bulb. They entered the appropriate delay into the Time Machine to achieve their desired images with the strobes.
- Hammer Operator
We only used pieces of a gun to propel the bullets into motion. We had a barrel of a .22 rifle that we would look through in order to position the target correctly. Once clamped into place, the firing pin and hammer we was added to the barrel. After following the all clear checks, the operator would also load the bullet and release the hammer.
You might think that this was the person operating changes on the strobe pack, but that was the photographer, remember? This person patiently waited by the light switch on the wall to simply turn the overhead lights on and off. Not very exciting, but necessary for what we were doing as it would have been a hazard to walking around in the dark. Someone once told me, "you guys should have gotten a clapper," to which I reminded them that bullets are very loud....
Why not use modeling lights? Two reasons: practical and safety.
- The Hammer Operator was tucked away in a little room and they needed to be able to see too. Possibly the most important person needing to see in the whole operation as they were the ones setting the aim on the target.
- This was kind of a higher risk operation, the more visibility the better so we we're going to depend on a single dim modeling light to provide lighting for an entire room.
Our professor, Rand Molnar, sat through all of our shots to make sure we followed procedures and most importantly to make sure we didn't do anything stupid, like I don't know, shoot somebody. We had a long checklist of commands that our team would say back and forth to each other to verify that everyone was safe before the Hammer Operator triggered the bullet.
We used an infrared beam that was placed in front of the opening of the barrel. When the bullet broke the beam, it would send a signal to The Time Machine. The Time Machine was set to fire the strobe light at the end of a time delay set by the photographer. A .22 bullet travels at the velocity of 1,750 ft/sec. If you target is 10' away, it would take the bullet .0057142 of a second to reach that point. The Time Machine allowed us 4 decimal places of control. So if the photographer wanted the bullet to reach exactly 10', they would enter .0057 into the device.
So does the Time Machine make High Speed Photography easy?
Like shooting fish in a barrel.