Amazing high-speed explosion photography

Check out these incredible high-speed images of exploding light bulbs from photographer Jon Smith

Old Glory by Jon Smith

All images by Jon Smith:


We love these images - high speed photography of exploding light bulbs, captured at the split-second of their demise.

They're the work of photographer Jon Smith, from Indiana USA, who fills the bulbs with materials like paints, dice, even bottle caps and then captures the precise moment at which he spectacularly destroys them with a pellet gun.


Image: ROYGBIV by Jon Smith


As Jon explains it: ‘There is a certain unpredictability with high speed photography that I'm drawn to. It allows you to capture the unseen, the transition between before and after. It shows the beauty in destruction. Sure, it starts out as a normal light bulb and ends as a pile of broken glass, but for just a split second, it's something beautiful - and to capture that is wonderful.


Image: 'Heavy Drinking' by Jon Smith


Capturing these images is all a matter of timing and precise triggering. As Jon uses a pellet gun to break the light bulbs, he cleverly hit upon the idea of a sound-triggered flash. He gave us a look at his setup:


Image: Jon's DIY setup


An old disposable camera serves as the flash, and a trigger from high-speed DIY specialists Hiviz activates it. ‘When I shoot the gun, the sound triggers the flash and freezes the bulb in mid-break,' he tells us.

Jon uses a shutter speed of 2.5secs, with a delay of 10secs to give him time to move into position, switch off the lights, and line up his shot.


Image: 'Non-Newtonian' by Jon Smith


Using the right kit is vitally important with precise images such as Jon's, and fortunately his choices of equipment reveal him to be a man of taste and distinction (at least by WDC standards).

The majority of Jon's high-speed images were taken with a Canon 7D, a solid workhorse camera from 2009 upon which Mat Gallagher bestowed an impressive score of 94%.


Image: Though Jon has since upgraded to a 5D Mk. III, these images were shot on the 70D, a great camera.


Jon's lens of choice is the Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 macro. Though our Jon Tarrant gave it a score of 89% in February this year, praising its ‘distinctive, friendly feel', he did warn that it was the kind of lens that ‘you are likely to either love or hate'.

Though our review drew attention to the lens's lack of Image Stabilisation, since Jon is operating on a tripod he simply doesn't need it. When Jon needs a little more distance from the light bulb, he employs the Tamron SP Pro 2x Extender - probably a wise precaution!


Image: 'Come on, snake eyes!' by Jon Smith


Jon has plenty more of these fantstic images on his Flickr page – stroll over and take a look.

Buying Advice