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Genius High Speed Photography

Published by Diana Tula · November 29th 2012

A picture is worth a thousand words, and we'd like to hear what they are. Alan Sailer is a hobbyist photographer based in California, microwave engineer by trade and a genius in his field of photography. In this post we'd like to share with you some of Alan's high speed pellet photographs and the stories behind them in Alan's words.

Lychee Nut Detonation

I take all my photos with a speed flash, which I have built myself. The typical flashes you can buy on a market go as fast as 30 microseconds, while my flash goes down to 1 microsecond. Ensuring minimal blur for a photo where an object is moving at a speed of 700 feet per second.

When I saw these lychee fruits at the store I just had to see how they would look being hit with a pellet rifle. I thought it looked very interesting! In this photo you can just barely see the pellet poking out on the left side.

Descartian Rubber Bands

The next most important equipment is the flash controller. It detects the movement and triggers the flash at the right moment. There are many controllers out there that do a great job, but most of my photos are taken with a home built unit because I am cheap.

A co-worker of mine suggested that I shoot some rubber bands. So I rolled up some bands and tried it. When I showed him the results, he said that he wanted to see the bands all in a row. So I spent a few hours building a frame and stretched a set of rubber bands onto it. In this photo you can see the pellet on its way from the second to the last bands. This photo was from my first try.

Delayed Chapstick

I started a series taking photos of christmas ornaments. At one point it occurred to me that christmas baubles might look interesting if shot from an angle closer to the pellets view. In this photo it is fake chap-stick inside a christmas bauble. I added more time delay for this photo to get more of kaa-bluee-eee effect.

I think that by the year 2025 I would have filled christmas baubles with everything one could only image. Anyone knows where I can score some plutonium?


I try and keep the expenses involved in buying ‘targets’ to the minimum. I had this idea for a while, but waited to take this photo until the day when I found a pack of cigarettes by the side of the road. Putting things in a row is an old high speed tradition. Later I got the idea to light the cigarettes in stages. I was amazed that I got the perfect shot with the first try.

I Was Walking Through the Park One Day

An early theme is my high speed photography journey was buying little ceramic figurines at garage sales, filling them with colored gelatin and shooting them. It's all pretty random, you have to soot a lot to get the one that breaks in a pleasing way.

But even when I fail, I like to think that I am making the world a better place by removing these silly things from circulation.

Lead Splash

I don't know about you, but to me it came as a complete surprise that solid lead from a pellet could splash. This is a picture of a pellet hitting a brass rod at about 700fps. Splash.

Lots of Colors All Gone Now

What camera, make or model that you shoot with is not important. I use a Nikon D90 now, but in the past I’ve used Nikon D40, Canon XT, Canon G6, Nikon F3 and in a really far away past Brownie box camera. It is the camera settings and functions that matter, a camera must have a manual mode and manual focus. 

A long time ago I found out about water absorbing polymers. They are little cubes that absorb water and grow tremendously in size, and if you put them in colored water they grow up colored. This is a photo of eight little cubes of colored polymer being hit by a fast moving lead pellet. It was great working with this stuff! Unlike gelatin it breaks up into little pieces that dry out and clean up easily.

Thanks for reading! If you would like to see more of Alan Sailer's photographs, add him to friends or follow his future work visit Alan’s 500px page. We are dedicated to promoting 500px photographers on our blog. If you have a story, DYI, video or project to share email


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Evgeny Averboukh  about 2 years ago
Amazing works. Just didn't got how you catch those things? :)
Joachim Heistinger  about 2 years ago
How? Damn fast :o)

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