Bullet Photography: Building a $2 Camera Laser Trigger

    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.


    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

    I founded TFB in 2007 and over 10 years worked tirelessly, with the help of my team, to build it up into the largest gun blog online. I retired as Editor in Chief in 2017. During my decade at TFB I was fortunate to work with the most amazing talented writers and genuinely good people!