How To: Photograph A Shattering Image

Photographers tend to think visually, but instead it was sound that inspired Mark Watson, an enthusiast who lives in Nottingham, England, to capture this shattering picture. (See more of his work at “I got the idea,” he explains, “after breaking a pencil point and hearing the lead hit the opposite wall. Pencils are pretty loud, I thought. Loud enough to activate an audio flash trigger.” High-speed flash photography requires specialized equipment, but luckily for Watson, who’s currently unemployed, it wasn’t expensive. His action-freezing gear included:

– Makezine high Speed photography Kit ($120, direct; This comes with a flash and flash trigger that can be activated by either sound or light.

– American DJ Snap Shot II Strobe light ($60, street). Watson chose this disco favorite for its bright output and  short flash durations—perfect for capturing motion sharply.

– Raynox Dcr-250 Super Macro lens ($57, street). Cheaper than an actual macro lens, this filterlike close-up tool snaps onto lenses that have 52–67mm filter threads to deliver eye-popping 2.5:1 subject magnification

Step 1: Build your set. Pick a neutral background and a platform that contrasts with your pencil’s color.

Step 2:
Test the flash trigger. Place your flash close in and set the dimmest output possible. With the flash trigger, microphone, and strobe connected and on, snap off pencil points to test the trigger. If the flash doesn’t fire, increase the mic’s sensitivity until it does.


Step 3: Determine flash delay. the flash trigger allows for a delay between the pencil break and flash firing—Watson’s was about 90 milliseconds. to find yours, mount the camera on a tripod and set a 2 sec shutter speed in the manual exposure mode. Prefocus on the subject’s mark. turn off the room lights and work by dim light coming from the next room. start at 90 milliseconds, fire the shutter, and break a pencil point to trigger the flash. If your photo doesn’t capture the shards in midair, adjust the flash delay until you catch them flying.

Step 4: Fine-tune exposure. adjust flash distance (keep the power level low) to achieve proper exposure with a midrange aperture such as f/11. Wider apertures provide too little depth of field; smaller ones can require a brighter flash with longer, image-softening durations. With the right exposure, you’re good to go.

Final Step: Clean up your files. In an image editor, crop any vignetting produced by the macro lens, adjust contrast, sharpen, and boost color.


Topic Filter: Commercial / Landscape / Portrait / Stock / What's Hot

Related Tutorials


Martin Lawrence

After many years as a keen amateur photographer, I decided to start a small landscape photography business called Lakescenes which I ran alongside my main job as an IT Manager. As business increased, I found myself working long, but rewarding, hours just to keep up […]

Read More

Rob Sheppard

Rob Sheppard is a naturalist, nature photographer and videographer who says his favorite location is the one he is in at any time. He is the author/photographer of over 40 books, as well as a well-known speaker and workshop leader, and a Fellow with the […]

Read More

Gary Hart

Gary Hart has photographed California’s natural beauty for over 30 years. Gary’s photos and writing have appeared in many publications, most recently Outdoor Photographer and Sierra Heritage magazines. You’ll also find his images in greeting cards, postcards, calendars, and many galleries and private collections throughout the world.

Read More

Jaroslav Wieczorkiewicz

Originally from Poland, based in London UK, Jaroslav has background in Fine Arts, degree in Architecture, and wide array of experience. Being an Architect taught him how to be resourceful and to solve complex problems with simple, yet innovative solutions. Constant passion for graphic & […]

Read More

What's Hot

Long exposures of the night sky

Next time you’re in the countryside at night do yourself a favour: look up. If it’s clear and conditions are right you’ll see a seemingly infinite number of stars twinkling like diamonds on a sheet of black velvet. As a visual pleasure it’s hard to […]

Read More

Dealing with Contrast

Contrast is usually at its highest when a scene is backlit. In this image there wasn’t much that could be done to lighten the shadows. I exposed so that the highlights weren’t too badly burnt out and didn’t worry too much about the shadows. Contrast […]

Read More

Black and White Portraits : Weekend Assignment

Colour can be distracting. Stripped of colour an image is entirely about the subject (unless of course the entire point of the subject is its colour…). This is particularly true of portraiture. Black and white arguably conveys the inner soul of the subject more powerfully […]

Read More