Stroboscopic Photography Is Nigh On Magic

Equipped with a strobe light and the first electronic flash device, Harold Edgerton has captured motion like no one has seen before.

These frozen-in-motion photographs are the first of their kind, taken by electrical engineer and photographer Harold Edgerton. “Stroboscopic” photography captures moving objects, often ones too quick for the human eye, by illuminating a subject’s successive movements with the rapid flash of a strobe light, leaving the camera’s shutter open for the entire exposure.

Edgerton is the first person to use a stroboscope, or strobe light, to illuminate objects in motion. While studying spinning engine rotors in an MIT lab, Edgerton found a way to sync the speed of the flashing light with each rotation, thereby making the rotor appear stationary to the human eye. He then developed high-speed motion-picture cameras that exposed exactly one frame of film per flash — with the number of flashes per second determining how many pictures were taken — and was able to expose at a rate of up to 15,000 times per second. When he projected the film back at normal speed, typically 24 frames per second, the blink-of-an-eye actions appeared to be standing still.

From milk droplets to bullets, ballet dancers and balloon pops, his high-speed stroboscopic images are incredible, and may spawn an entirely new type of photography.

Edgerton’s youngest son Robert running, 1939.

Airflow from fan blades, 1934.

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