Exercise 3.1 – The frozen moment

This post represents a bit of monolithic dual avicide. First, there is the exercise itself, using fast shutter speeds to isolate a frozen moment of time in a moving subject. Second, it gives me a chance to discover something that I have long been curious about, just what does the beginning of a stream of water running from a tap look like?

This was my first attempt. The set-up appears simple, an outside tap and an Olympus E-30 on a tripod and set to ‘machine-gun mode’ (rapid sequence). I would start a camera sequence and turn the tap on and off while the camera is running. As always, the devil is in the details.


As noted in the brief, there is a trade-off between shutter speed and ISO. My first set of images were taken with the kit 14-42mm zoom at the 42mm end (84mm full-frame equivalent) and its widest aperture, f/5.6. The image above was taken at ISO800, 1/320 second, which is not fast enough to freeze the water emerging under pressure. I also tried 1/800 at ISO1600 and 1/1250 at ISO2500, which was too noisy. After that I switched to the 50-150 telephoto zoom which opens to f/2.8 at the short end and allowed me shutter speeds of 1/1600 and 1/2000.

The second issue is timing, which is largely a matter of luck. Although 1/1600 is fast enough to freeze the water flow, the 5FPS sequential shooting speed is not great for capturing the fast-moving leading edge. Here are a few images in full flow, and we see that it is not a simple symmetrical cylinder of water.

Another issue was getting the full stream in focus with a shallow depth of field. This is the reason for the later images being more side-on, but including the white pipe in the foreground.

With the tap turned off, the last dregs of water fall under gravity and rather slower.

And, yes, I did manage to freeze that leading edge.

This final image is my favourite, from 150 total shots.


Slices of time

We are asked to consider John Szarkowski’s comment, quoted in the course notes, and consider whether fast shutter speeds capture movement or fragment it, isolating thin slices of time to reveal something new.

… there was a pleasure and beauty in this fragmenting of time that had little to do with what was happening. It had to do, rather, with seeing the momentary patterning of lines and shapes that had been previously concealed within the flux of movement. (Szarkowski, 2007,10)

Szarkowski was referring to Eadweard Muybridge’s 1878 sequential images of a horse in motion which, very clearly, slice time into small segments and present them all for our viewing. Famously, this set of images was the first to show how the horse’s legs moved in a gallop  which was previously unobserved and unknown.

The same comment can be made when we are only presented with one image, effectively a single slice of time, such as the milk-drop coronets and bullet-through-apple images of Harold Edgerton (MIT website here). Edgerton’s high speed captures relied on flash technology rather than shutter speed, but the principle is the same. The position of the picture elements at a given instant is defined but I get no sense of movement, except where there is blur.

Another photographer using high shutter speeds to freeze motion is Eyoalha Baker (website here) whose ‘Jump for Joy’ project was a mural compiled of some 200 photographs of people jumping.

The common factor seems to be that the picture elements are fixed in space, but they are in positions that are statically unsustainable. Either levitation or motion must be involved. Intellectually, we know the subjects must be moving but, somehow, it is easier to believe in levitation.

I recall a similar or related impression when viewing ViewMaster 3D images involving water. Waves, ‘frozen’ in a 3D image, appear to have been cast in clear resin rather than being in motion.


Baker, E. (2016) Jump for Joy! Photo Project [online] at:https://jumpforjoyphotoproject.wordpress.com

MIT (s.d.) Harold “Doc” Egerton [online] at: http://edgerton-digital-collections.org/galleries/iconic

Szarkowski, J. (2007) The Photographer’s Eye – 2007 reprint New York: MoMA