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What Is High-Speed Photography? What You Need to Know!

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There are countless ways to capture moments with a camera, but some are more effective than others. High-speed photography is one method that artists may use to do this, but what exactly is high-speed photography? How is it used on a shoot? To keep things concise and practical, we’ve put together a quick guide on how it works and what it is. Keep reading to learn all about high-speed photography! 

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How Does It Work?

By this point, you probably know about shutter speed, which is how long your camera’s sensor is subjected to light. High-speed photography is a type of photography that involves extremely fast shutter speeds so that the subject can be captured in a fraction of a second. For example, a photographer may use a shutter speed of 1/2000th of a second to get shots that seem to ‘freeze’ time.

On top of that, high-speed photography includes the use of high-burst rates available on a camera body. Instead of taking one photo in a moment’s time, this enables one to take dozens of shots within a single second. That might mean that the camera takes 25 or 40 pictures, which increases the chance that you’ll get the “perfect shot”. Not all cameras have this capability though, with some taking a measly five frames per second. 

A good majority of professionals in this niche also use a flash, which is essential to compensate for the loss of light resulting from fast shutter speeds. This is especially the case for low-light scenes. 

Where Is It Used? (Different Types of High-Speed Photography)


One genre of high-speed photography is sporting events. During a game of basketball, a match of tennis, or a race, movements are always changing. Not only that, but the ball itself Is quite quick, so skilled photographers must try to predict a person’s next move. That’s why it can be helpful to know what moments you want to photograph, like a baseball and a bat hitting together!

Telephoto Camera Lens
Image By: Pxhere

Wildlife and Birding

Due to the unpredictable nature of animals, it’s not always possible to set up a tripod. You need to act quickly, and high-speed photography is a crucial part of keeping things fast-paced. Accurate auto-focus and animal tracking features are incredibly important to have in this situation, with the addition of rapid-fire shooting. Birds are particularly difficult because of their size, speed, and flight paths. The best advice we can give with this type of photography is to stay patient and focused. 


In other cases, you may have seen photos of water bursting from a balloon or a wave crashing against a sea stack. It’s also common to see commercials that use splashing water or beverages. There are a ton of other ways this can be used, but the goal here is to stop the motion of liquids, which can’t be seen with the naked eye. 

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Advantages of High-Speed Photography

Grayscale photo of a race starting line
Image By: Pixabay, Pexels

The best thing about high-speed photography is that you don’t have to worry as much about blurry images. Paired with lens stabilization or in-body image stabilization (IBIS), it’s unlikely that your pictures will come out blurry; the shutter is so quick that your movements won’t affect the exposure. 

Another huge advantage is the fact that you can get photos that are a once-in-a-lifetime moment. With something like landscape photography, you can always go back to the same spot (although conditions may change). Rare moments like a mount lion attacking a rabbit are not common on camera. But this is what makes it exciting and valuable!

Disadvantages of High-Speed Photography

There are many reasons why high-speed photography isn’t as popular as other niches in this profession/hobby. 

The fact is, it costs a lot of money to buy a camera with a high burst rate. They can cost thousands of dollars and that doesn’t include the high-quality glass. Memory cards needed to attain this performance level are expensive too.

The biggest drawback, though, is the loss of light. Using a fast shutter speed lets less light into the camera, and therefore, you’ll need to compensate with ISO or the fastest aperture of your lens. Even then, it might not be enough if the conditions are too dark. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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Image By: Doubletree Studio, Shutterstock

What Shutter Speed Should I Use for High-Speed Photography?

Generally speaking, you want to use shutter speeds that are around 1/2000th of a second, all the way to 1/8000th of a second if there is enough light. You may be able to use a slower shutter speed for moving subjects that are not traveling across the field of view too quickly. This is more of a guideline though, so you can adjust your settings according to whichever situation is needed. 

Who Invented High-Speed Photography?

The man who pioneered fast-action scenes was none other than Harold Edgerton, who designed the stroboscope. These instruments flash lights into an environment so that we can view images that can’t normally be seen with the naked eye. 

shutter camera divider A Quick Reference Guide

When to Use High-Speed Photography When Not to Use High-Speed Photography
Sports and racing Astrophotography
Wildlife and birding Most cases of landscape photography
‘Freezing’ water effect Low-light situations without the use of a flash

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Final Thoughts

The cost and difficulty of this photography genre make it a hard one to both begin and master. It takes patience, skill, and a lot of focus to do it effectively. Every aspiring photographer should learn about what high-speed photography is though, as it can be one of the most rewarding experiences in all of photography!

Featured Image Credit: Jacek Dylag, Unsplash

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.