Photographing a Speeding Bullet Using a Sugar Cube as Your Only Light Source

Here’s a cool project for those of you who enjoy shooting with both cameras and guns. Did you know that you can photograph a speeding bullet using only a sugar cube and no other light source? As it turns out you can, and Instructables user FPSoutback has the video to prove it.

To get the shot, he used his NEX-5N to take a long-exposure in pitch black conditions. He would trigger the NEX, wait for the two second countdown, and then fire at the cube with a .22 rifle. The resulting photos capture the bullet hitting the cube at the instant the cube is being split. That blue light you see is coming from the cube:


The reason this is possible is, as you might imagine, a bit scientific in nature. When the bullet hits the sugar cube, individual sugar crystals break apart. What you end up with is unevenly distributed charge, which needs to equalize.

To get back to a neutral state, electrons will move from one piece of the crystal to the other, creating a flash of light in the process. This is called triboluminescence.

As you can see from the video, most of that light isn’t in the visible spectrum, so to intensify the effect, he adds a little bit of oil of wintergreen (basically just methyl salicylate) which absorbs the light and re-emits it at a longer wavelength that is visible to the human eye.

The final shot is downright awesome: a speeding bullet photographed using light emitted from a sugar cube. I believe the quote turned meme by Jesse Pinkman from the series Breaking Bad is in order: “Yeah Science, B****!”

(via Instructables)

  • PJ

    Presumably the same effect you get biting down on Wint-O-Green Life Savers in a dark room, right?

  • ken

    “(basically just methyl salicylate)”

    Yeah…. thats what I was gonna say too.

    awesome post!!

  • Zachary Larsen

    The real question is where the hell did he find .22LR ammo? That stuff is impossible to find these days, at least in the US.

  • moban

    i was thinking the same thing

  • woot

    The box of .22 ammo in vid says “made in Australia”.

  • Melka

    Why is that ?

  • Dan

    How to avoid the camera picking up the muzzle flash?

  • Wierdo Ian

    He sounds like an aussie

  • RMJ

    how is the sugar cube the only light source when the most lighting is done by the oil of wintergreen ?

  • JPTX

    Now THATS neat stuff to play with!

  • JPTX

    He is not in the USA my guess :)

  • reword

    “absorbs the light and re-emits it at a longer wavelength”

    the sugar cube is the SOURCE. as the light transmitted isnt in the visible spectrum, the wintergreen makes it visible (by the absortion and re-emittance that was stated in the article.)

    does that make it any clearer?

  • RMJ

    What is there to be clear about ?

    It still is NOT the ONLY light source. It’s the OTHER light source along the wintergreen oil that makes most of the lighting. “Re-emmitting” light is no different to “emitting light”. As long as you have the energy coming from somewhere, in any form, it can be done. The sugar cube gets it’s energy from the bullet, the wintergreen oil gets it’s energy from the sugar. Simple as that.

    If you want to be picky about the “source” then neither are, it’s the bullet ! It is the source that brings the energy that launches the chain reaction.

    Either way, including or excluding the bullet, the sugar cube is NOT the ONLY light source. Wintergreen oil is even much more important light source for the visible light that matters to us !

  • Jim

    Very interesting video, and exceptionally well written article thanks a lot.

  • Jonathan Fields

    There isn’t really any muzzle flash to speak of from a 22LR