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Storyteller | Ghislain Simard

How to ‘freeze’ a dragonfly with an H5D-60 and a flash duration of 1/111,000 second

Have you listened to Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘flight of the bumblebee’ lately? It’s fast. Very fast – and a real challenge for even the most talented professional pianists.

But for multi-award-winning photographer Ghislain Simard it’s not about bumblebees in flight it’s all about butterflies and dragonflies on the wing.

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And if you think it’s extremely difficult to ‘freeze’ a butterfly in motion you should try doing the same thing with a dragonfly. Only a very patient and ‘insect obsessed’ master of photography, using a world-class medium format camera (an H5D-60 and a flash duration of 1/111,000 sec plus some extra input from Hasselblad production experts to create a special tool) can hope to perfect it at the very highest level.

Ghislain is that man. He has been taking pictures of butterflies since he was ten years old – following his father’s passion for insects.

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In an interview for Hasselblad Ghislain reveals: “I have always been in complete awe of how such fragile animals can fly so easily and gracefully, even in the wind. They just look like flying flowers. I made it my mission to capture their beauty in flight.

I started just by photographing them as they landed on flowers but I quickly realised something was missing.”

When Ghislain discovered the work of the renowned English photographer Stephen Dalton – an acknowledged expert of high-speed photography – he realised he could still achieve his ambition to capture these creatures in mid-air.
“When I moved on from butterflies to dragonflies I had more problems to solve” he says. “Dragonflies don’t like photographers getting too close and they often fly over water so it’s not easy to get near them. I often use my HC 300 telephoto lens…but I also use accessories designed specifically to freeze high-speed movement. The first challenge is to release the shutter at the right millisecond.”

GSi_H5D_“To get round this problem I designed an electronic system to release the shutter. Combined with a light barrier that detects the subject as it comes into focus, it triggers the camera at just the right moment. And for more precision, my latest light barrier is equipped with laser. Although the shutter opening time appears to be instantaneous in traditional photography, this brief time lapse becomes a real delay when the subject is moving at a very high speed. This compromises the precision that you may expect when you use an automatic release system. The leaf shutter of HC lenses is very fast and it helps to minimize the impact of shutter opening delay. For the fastest shots, with the brilliant assistance of Hasselblad, it was possible to make the medium format camera to effectively trigger the flash directly via the sensor, without any mechanical shutter, making it far faster than any 35mm DSLR.”

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He adds: “Another challenge is to avoid blur caused by the speed of the subject. It’s even more difficult to freeze very rapid movement if the scene is framed in close-up. A single wing-beat takes the subject right across the frame. Here, the solution is provided by electronic flash systems, which generate very brief flashes capable of freezing even the fastest actions.”

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When Ghislain showed his latest 2015 pictures to his mentor, Stephen Dalton, the high-speed photography guru told him: “Now you are the master.”

Says Ghislain: “Stephen will always be the true master but I am very proud of this compliment. The most important thing I learnt from him is about light – how to reproduce the sunlight and hide any artificial effect of high-speed flash.”

www.simpho.com


Are you looking to invest in Hasselblad Medium Format photography? The Hasselblad H5D-50c is currently available as a special offer for a limited period.

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