The Art of Extreme Shutter Speeds

The history of photography is filled with innovators who came up with new ways of capturing movement. Eadweard Muybridge used a system of mechanical devices to capture a horse galloping in 1887. (Exposure time: 6 milliseconds.) Harold “Doc” Edgerton developed a way to have moving objects trigger strobes, as in his 1964 image of a bullet ripping through a playing card. (Exposure time: 1 microsecond.) Back in 1952 Edgerton used an even more exotic method to capture the early stages of a nuclear ex

The history of photography is filled with innovators who came up with new ways of capturing movement. Eadweard Muybridge used a system of mechanical devices to capture a horse galloping in 1887. (Exposure time: 6 milliseconds.) Harold “Doc” Edgerton developed a way to have moving objects trigger strobes, as in his 1964 image of a bullet ripping through a playing card. (Exposure time: 1 microsecond.) Back in 1952 Edgerton used an even more exotic method to capture the early stages of a nuclear explosion. (Exposure time: 10 nanoseconds.)

Now, scientists are using lasers to photograph events with shutter speeds measured in femtoseconds and attoseconds. How fast is that? I’m not a scientist, but I sometimes play one on this blog, so here’s the math: A millisecond is 10 to the minus 3rd degree. A microsecond is 10 to the minus 6th degree. A nanosecond is 10 to the minus 9th degree. A femtosecond is 10 to the minus 15th degree. And an attosecond is 10 to the minus 18th degree.

That is about the time is takes light to cross a hydrogen atom. Or so it says here.

 Though scientifically interesting, these new images don’t seem to have the artistic merit of Muybridge’s or Edgerton’s. The photograph below was made in the 1980s shows aluminum melting at the atomic level. Boring. Edgerton knew how important a Jack of Diamonds could be to a photo.  

--David Schonauer

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