Air Gap Flash & Alan Sailer’s Photostream

I have seen a lot of good high speed photography, but Alan Sailer has some of the most interesting shots out there.  These shots are taken using some specialized equipment, including an ‘air gap flash’.  I have never heard of this device until today, and apparently it’s a DIY flash that has the potential to kill you.  Standard flashes (Canon, Nikon) have a minimum duration of 1/40,000th of a second.  It seems short, but when photographing bullets it’s an eternity.  At 1000 feet/second (not that fast in bullet terms), that bullet can travel 1/3rd of an inch so it’s more of a streak in the image than a bullet frozen in time.  This air gap flash can have a flash duration of 1/1,000,000th of a second (about 25x faster than a standard flash).

You can make your own air gap flash by following the directions here.  However, if you don’t know how to work with high voltage, don’t even try.  As the author of the site says “you should not build this because this flash will kill you”.  What you essentially make is a 35,000 volt capacitor that releases a 1.5″ spark across a gap.  If you don’t know what you are doing, that voltage will be released into your body and you won’t be around to tell anyone how that felt.  So don’t build it, but do read about it, it’s an interesting device.

This is what the air gap flash looks like when complete.

air gap flash

As far as the images you can capture with it, here are a few samples.

Christmas bulb filled with gelatin and shot with a marble.

Alan Sailer christmas bulb high speed


Hot dog shot with a pellet gun.

Alan Sailer hot dog high speed

To see more of Alan’s great work, visit his Flickr Photostream.  He has a ton of amazing photos there and doesn’t just shoot things with a gun.  He has an air cannon that is used to shoot a lime through a piece of beef or a ping pong ball through fruit.  Definitely worth a visit.