Water hat - possible through high-speed photography and water bomb

Water hat - possible with high-speed photography and water bomb

Canon EOS 6D
2 sec.
focal length:
70 mm

High-speed photography - or how water bombs turn water wigs into water wigs and you get people wet

"I give the moment duration" quote from Manuel Alvarez Bravo

The fascination of high-speed photography lies in the fact that things become visible that happen too quickly for the eye and thus remain hidden. This includes the bursting of a water bomb or photos of impinging water drops. But slowly with the horses and in turn. How do you even get the idea of letting people burst water balloons on the head? What is needed for such high-speed photos of camera equipment and additional equipment? This is shown in the following tutorial (with some stumbling blocks to avoid).

First of all, you need some crazy people to take part in such actions (the need for helping hands is astonishingly high).

But let us first look at the technical possibilities of freezing fast movements in photography:

Technics/Photography advantages and disadvantages

Print at the right moment

The perfect image requires a lot of patience and luck (and in this case a lot of filled water balloons).

Also we have (even if we ourselves are fast enough) on the technical side triggering delays.

advantage are the low costs.

Continuous picture function

Depending on the camera´s (and memory card´ s) capabilities, we can use a continuous shooting function. Depending on the camera and manufacturer, more than 60 frames per second are advertised here.

Patience and luck (and a lot of filled water balloons) are necessary for the perfect image.

Additional disadvantage: Often we will have to contend with motion blur on the photos, because the water tropics have very high speeds.

When we want to work with flashes at the latest, this technique becomes "unattractive" or the number of frames per second of the continuous shooting function decreases significantly.

trigger camera by external signal

The camera is triggered by a sensor (e. g. reaction to noise or light).

Disadvantage: We need additional devices to trigger the camera, i. e."trigger".

Larger disadvantage: Here too, we have triggering delays! Depending on the camera, these shutter release delays are more than 50 milliseconds. This may sound a little bit slow, but it is already too long in high-speed photography and other areas.

trigger flash by external signal

Triggering of the flash by external signal

The flash is triggered (triggered) by a sensor (here usually noise). The camera has already been triggered and is in a long-term exposure (more on this in the following text).

Big advantage is that we can achieve speeds of 1/10,000, depending on the flash unit - i. e. our frozen time slice is very "thin".

Disadvantages: We need the appropriate hardware to trigger flashes, very fast flashes and a completely dark room.

Let us have a look at how the bursting of the water balloon can be frozen by the possibility of a flash triggered by an external signal.

To be able to realize our high-speed photography, an absolutely dark room is needed, because the camera is set to long-term exposure. The exposure itself is carried out by the flash, so we have a high speed shot despite the long exposure mode.

Preparation for water bombs high-speed photos - in front of the ladder you can see the water bombs stockpile
Preparing for water bombs high speed photos - in front of the ladder you can see the water bombs stockpile

It is a good opportunity to have a garage that can be heated! The water becomes wet and at the latest after the tenth water balloon the water stands on the ground. Of course, you can also pack a children´s pool underneath the person.


A mannequin helps with all settings and tests. This reacts to water in general less sensitive to cold.

I chose the "triggie pro+". A small, fine device that can trigger the flashes with an extremely low triggering delay both via an external light sensor and via microphone (internal and external). For the exact technical data, please refer to the website of the manufacturer "Mario Ohnmacht Elektronik": https://www.highspeed-photography.de/produkte/

There are other manufacturers of such devices - my decision for the "triggie pro+" was based on the fact that it is made in Germany and supports everything I need and at a reasonable price.

Studio flashes are something beautiful to live out your creativity. However, most flashes are not designed for high speed. This is also because the shutter curtain must be completely open when the flash fires (see the chapter in the photo course on the shutter curtain). The shutter curtain is completely open at times of 1/160 seconds (or 1/200 for some cameras) - depending on the camera model. If shorter times are set (e. g. 1/500), the shutter curtain runs as a slot across the sensor surface - the faster, the narrower the slot. This is absolutely not helpful when using a flash. Some camera owners will now argue that shorter shutter speeds with their own camera and flash seem to work. Technically, the flash is triggered very quickly one after the other with shorter set times - which is not desired for high-speed photos.

For our high-speed shots we need flashes with a very short burning time. Here I use a "Helios 680A" as studio flash - this offers a burning time of 1/10,000 seconds in the lowest intensity (setting 1/64).

A nice video for measuring the burning time can be found at

To test your own flash for speed there will be an extra chapter. As a rule of thumb, simply use the following statement:

Important: A flash is usually faster (short burning time) when it is set to the lowest power!

Working with a photoelectric sensor works - but not as reliably as triggering via noise.

But first of all a result:

Light barrier visible in high-speed photo
Light barrier visible in high-speed photo

Here you can see the shape of the balloon as a water ball (the rubber skin of which is still visible when shrunk together at the top). The biggest disadvantage of the technique using a light barrier (depending on the light) is that it can be visible. In the photo above, the light barrier is just above the head to make it easy to place the person. However, a white strip of light is visible through the long-term exposure. This is created by the balloon, which "falls" through the light, but still throws enough light in the direction of the camera, so that the light beam of the photoelectric sensor becomes visible during the long time exposure.

The best way to do this is to attach a drawing pin to the person´s head over a tape (or whatever is at hand). If the water balloon hits it, it bursts reliably.

Encourage water balloon to burst by drawing pins
Encourage the water balloon to burst by means of a tear bar

However, the end of the throwing from above should also hit exactly!

water balloon does not burst - there are interesting shapes
Water balloon does not burst - there are interesting shapes

Otherwise there are classic "turds". Water bombs in a form you have never seen before!

What sounds strange at the first glance is extremely important in practice! The flash may not fire until a certain time has elapsed. If the flash fires too early, we have the complete balloon in the photo.

Water balloon still falling - this can happen to you when light barrier is too high.
Water balloon still falling - this can happen to you when light barrier is too high.

This problem has been increasingly encountered when using light barriers.

If you trigger the flash via a sound, this problem is triggered by "far too early" from the table - but not completely!

However, a "too early" can also happen when the camera is triggered by sounds, which shows the next photo nicely.

balloon skin almost completely visible - triggering via noise
Balloon skin almost completely visible - triggering via noise

The shape of the water balloon and the balloon skin are still very clearly visible in the photo - the water polo ball has not yet spread.

It's nice to be able to tell stories about the photos. Here's baseball of a different kind.

too hard shot at baseball - ball bursts
too hard a blow in baseball - ball bursts

Precise, the flash can be triggered via a microphone. This should be placed so that it is close enough to absorb the bursting of the water balloon and far enough away that it is neither in the image nor hit by water and is thus destroyed.

Placement of microphone with highspeed hat
Microphone placement for high-speed water hats

Swank from life: If you accidentally destroyed your microphone because it got a splash of water, then the technique with the photoelectric sensor is back on. This happened to me promptly at the second shooting - so use cheap microphones and always have replacements there. Microphones for five to ten euros will be used to trigger the flash - we do not take vocal recordings.


Everything fits, you can have fun. Hot water in the balloons is fun - and from time to time with cold water.

And what looks like screaming was just put:

photo from the side - no problem with open eyes
Photo from the side - no problem with open

A good idea is to illuminate the background with a second flash - here you can play with different colors - we used blue.

here the desired final result - a hat of water
here the desired final result - a wig made of water
Fire and Water - nobody knows its only an orange water ballon?

The illuminated background provides better visibility of the water.

Wedding curtain of water over high-speed photography
Wedding veil made of water over high-speed photography

The new form of the wedding veil.

Interesting (although much more difficult) is a mixing technique between high-speed photography and additional long-term exposure of the water.

[image[the finished photo with long term high-speed exposure]] [image[permanent light in the background turns little water into a lot of photography]]

He is to a good last

Many fun while playing and taking pictures.

But: always make sure that water and electricity do not come together! 240 volts can be fatal! So go to work with sense and reason, and then you can have fun!

Many great photos wishes the photocourse.info

Author: Axel Pratzner

Translator: Felix Pratzner