Capturing motion in-camera using flash, with Manuel Cafini
I recently came across the work of Italian photographer Manuel Cafini over on Facebook, and I was instantly blown away. His Chronophotography project particularly intrigued me, as it’s a look I’ve attempted and failed to create myself a number of times.
Chronophotography is defined as “an antique photographic technique from the Victorian era (beginning about 1867-68), which captures movement in several frames of print. These prints can be subsequently arranged either like animation cels or layered in a single frame.”
Manuel has updated the basic principles and brought it to the present day. So, we reached out and contacted Manual to get some insight into his process.
With a variety of dancers, athletes, and models, Manuel has evolved the process into something that works better with a modern digital workflow using speedlights in repeat flash mode (multimode, or stroboscopic) to produce the final results in-camera in a single frame.
My technique is an evolution of this ancient technique.
The difference is that in addition to all the movement, I have a perfectly sharp subject at the closing of the shutter.
We asked about the equipment he uses to make these images.
Whether using a digital or analog camera, the result would be the same. There’s no post-production so the only advantage of using a digital camera is to save money to print the negative.
I use the flash from Nikon with the multimode function and photography is complete in-camera.
With a background in engineering, Manuel’s not afraid to modify his flashes to his requirements.
I use Nikon flash because I need a very fast flash duration, and because they have already built a great multimode system.
I have changed some of the flash to obtain higher frequencies, as high as even 512Hz. The flashes are fed with a homemade power pack.
We asked Manuel about where his ideas and inspiration come from.
I suffer from insomnia and the images take shape in my mind, during those sleepless nights.
Once the image is created in my mind I try to find ways to achieve them.
Before calling dancers or subjects to photograph, I practice a lot on myself, to understand the limits of the technique and to understand what are the most suitable to play on the technical movements.
When I fully understood, I proceed with contacting athletes dancers and models
It usually takes Manuel about a month between forming the initial idea for an image, and creating the final photograph, with a lot of testing and experimentation in between.
Manuel told DIYP about the biggest challenges with this technique.
The most difficult thing … to find a way to transform a picture in my head, into a real image, to evolve chronophotography into “chronophotography+”.
Get the picture, with the figure of the subject sharp at the end of the movement.
I have to explain [to the subjects] the whole project and the types of movements that are more excellent for the type of project.
Usually I call professional dancers, who understand what I need.
The Chronophotography project is one that Manuel will be adding to for a long time, although it has had to take a back seat for a short wile.
It is a long term project. At the moment the project is stopped because I built a water room in my studio, I do not have enough space.
Well done to Manuel, and models Giampaolo Gobbi (dancer), and Mirko Paoletti (boxer) on the work they have created thus far.
I can’t wait to see what’s next for the Chronophotography project once it’s back in full swing again.
I might even have to have another go with repeat flash myself.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.