How to Photograph an Exploding Light Bulb

If you’re a fan of capturing things exploding, yet haven’t been sure of how to light them in the studio, master photographer Jay P Morgan’s clip about how to “shoot” a light bulb just might shed some light on the matter:

To capture the explosion, Morgan is using high speed photography. High speed photography is the art of capturing things that happen in the blink of an eye—particularly those events that that the human eye doesn’t normally see. In Morgan’s demonstration, the speed of the shutter is so fast it won’t be able to pick up much of the ambient light in the room. (Other techniques require a totally dark room.)

In Morgan’s setup he uses a small, black backdrop in front of a larger piece of diffusion. Two Dynalight B4 strobes are then placed behind the diffusion, focused on the area just around the light bulb. (He has grids in his strobes to help prevent light leak.) It’s important to keep your strobes set to low because the higher you have your strobe flash, the longer it will take the light to travel.

In the image below you can see the difference between no additional lighting (far left), rim lighting alone (center), and rim lighting combined with the light bulb’s element. The rim lighting gives a nice, crisp shape to the glass of the light bulb and allows you to capture far more interesting (and beautiful) images.

How to shoot a light bulb

To complete the setup, Morgan is using a Pocket Wizard to sync with and trigger the flash, and a MIOPS trigger to fire the camera. You could use the Pocket Wizard to fire your camera as well, but the MIOPS trigger is much more versatile; you can set it to be triggered by light, sound, a laser, or even with lightning. Since Morgan is using the sound of the BB gun as his trigger, using a MIOPS trigger makes a lot of sense.

high speed photography

One thing that’s not mentioned here is the incredible amount of patience it takes to get a good shot. You have to experiment over and over (and in this case go through countless light bulbs!) before coming up with a few great images. Still, it’s a labor of love for many, and when you get a great image, it all seems worthwhile.

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