Dr. Harold Edgerton and strobe light photography

When one hears the phrase: "faster than a speeding bullet," one usually thinks of Superman. But he's just a comic book character, and Artsology wanted to find a real person who was "faster than a speeding bullet." We found him - he's the man pictured below, Dr. Harold Edgerton. Okay, so Edgerton himself wasn't faster than a speeding bullet. But he developed a technique of taking photographs synchronized with a strobe light flash, which allowed Edgerton to create dramatic stop-action photographs. He was able to create pictures of specific moments - such as a bullet ripping through an apple - that never could have been visualized had they not been captured by his camera.


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Faster than a speeding bullet: Superman and Dr. Harold Edgerton

In the early 1960s when Edgerton was doing these experiments, there was no high-speed film that could capture fast objects with natural light, so Edgerton developed a light flash to help capture moving objects at a specific moment in time. He developed strobe light equipment that could flash up to 120 times a second, which means that when the camera shutter was clicked, it could be assured of having a flash that would illuminate the subject in motion at the same time.

You may be wondering, why was he called "Doc" and what was he a doctor of? Edgerton received his undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Nebraska, but went on to M.I.T., where had got both his masters as well as a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering. Someone who earns a Ph.D. is a holder of a "doctorate" and can be addressed as "Dr.," and Edgerton decided to use the title.

Below left we have the image of the bullet ripping through an apple, as we described above. It's titled .30 Bullet piercing an apple, from 1964. Below right is Bullet through King of Diamonds, also made in 1964.

Dr. Harold Edgerton photograph of a bullet going through an apple

Dr. Harold Edgerton photograph of a bullet going through a King face playing card

Dr. Harold Edgerton considered himself a scientist more so than an artist, but his eye for composition clearly makes his work very artistic. Below left we see his photograph of a golfer swinging his club, with an effect of the club forming a halo around the golfer.

Can you spot the bullet in the picture below right? It has already flown through all 3 balloons, but the first one has reached the state of being shredded, while the second is opening up, and the third has just experienced the bullet passing through, and is still relatively intact. You can barely see the small bullet in front of the far right balloon, having already gone through it.

Dr. Harold Edgerton photograph of a golfer taking a swing

Dr. Harold Edgerton photograph of a bullet going through three balloons

You can also see Superman express his appreciation for Dr. Edgerton's skills, as well as a picture above right showing Edgerton surrounded by some of his strobe lights and other equipment. To learn more about Harold Edgerton, check out his Wikipedia page here.




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