Bullet Photography: Building a $2 Camera Laser Trigger

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UK firm Vela Labs have published the schematics and instructions on how to build a cheap camera laser trigger costing just $2. This type of trigger is perfect for taking photos of bullets in the air or colliding with objects, such as the above photo showing a BB, shot from an air gun, hitting a crayon. When a bullet breaks a laser beam (in the photo below they are using the laser sight attached to the air gun’s picatinny rail, along with a mirror to angle is downwards) it tells the camera to take a photo.

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Vera Labs have been testing the trigger with an Olympus Micro 4/3 camera (here at TFB Micro 4/3 cameras as used by Phil White, James Reeves and myself) along with an Olympus flash/speedlight. The problem with this setup is the flash unit which simply cannot fire fast enough to get a blur free photo of a bullet. Flash’s these days use xenon flash tubes which can, at best, put out a burst of light lasting 1/40,000th of a second. If a bullet is traveling at 3,000 feet per second, it will travel almost an inch during the time it is lit up, giving a blurry image. What is required for bullet photograph is a flash lasting 1/1,000,000th of a second or less.

The usual way to create a sub-microsecond burst of intense light is using an Air-Gap flash. I tweeted Vera Labs and they told me they are working on designing an ultra fast flash, although they did not say if it would be an Air-Gap design. There are some DIY designs out there, but these use very high voltage and current, making them exceptionally dangerous, and use exotic parts such as 35,000 volt capacitors.

A photo shot using a DIY Air-Gap flash unit.

A photo shot using the above DIY Air-Gap flash unit.

If Vera are able to create a safe, easy to use and affordable ultra fast flash unit, it could put bullet photography within reach of the average gun and photography enthusiast (and bloggers).



Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


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  • Charlie Taylor

    As a gun nut, geek, electronics nerd and photographer I’ve always wanted to build an Air-Gap Flash but they scare me shitless. Not much scares me shitless considering my chosen career path would have me in war zones with nothing but body armor and my camera. If, you know, there was an actual solid career path for photojournalists these days other than “Hey, my country is currently going through a war and I’m good at taking pictures, why not capitalize on a shitty situation?” Goddamn outsourcing.

    Anywho. Yeah that tells you something if these scare me that badly. I just don’t trust myself enough to not screw it up in some unforeseen-by-me way. If anyone could screw up an air-gap so badly it would make electricians go “well damn, I’d never thought of that going wrong,” it would be me.

  • Nicholas C

    oooh very cool.

  • Blake

    Pro tip: use a slow heavy bullet 🙂

    With a 1/40000th flash an 800fps bullet will move 1/4″. You’ll still get a blurry bullet (or what’s left of it) but the apple you smack with your hollow point cowboy load will still look awesome &ltgrin&gt

    http://flickr.com/groups/highspeedphotography/

  • gunslinger

    holy sweet batman

  • Limonata

    While not $2, it is not thousands of dollars either.

    I was part of this kickstarter

    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/triggertrap/triggertrap-redsnap-modular-camera-trigger

    They make a Trigger Trap for m4/3 cameras.
    On their website and blog they have several photos of stopping BBs
    Yes, a high speed flash would be nice. you will get blur with

    • Hi. Matt from Vela Labs here. I was actually the co-founder of Triggertrap, and Triggertrap Ada was my last project (and is named after my daughter). Vela Labs is my new business, and the flash I’m working on will work very well with Ada.

  • Phil Hsueh

    FYI, adding an apostrophe S to words does not make it plural, it makes it either possessive or a contraction. In this case it’s not flash’s (which makes flash possessive) flashes.