Re: Tesla Coil Photography


As a keen and passably experienced and technically proficient photographer
I was surprised too at how hard it is to get that 'really good shot' of a
running Coil. The trick would seem to be using fast film - this way you get
more exposure on the film for the brief duration that each 'pulse' in the
arc lasts. Instead of dark blue and purple streamers and a general lack of
contrast to the film, you will then get bright blue to white arcs. You
don't want to overdo it though and have all the spark detail/banjo effect
burnt out, but I reckon that with 400ASA film an aperture from fully open
to about f4 should be about right. You should not need any ambient
lighting, or maybe just a little to show off the secondary and base (maybe
a desk lamp directed towards it with a dimmer - experiment here and maybe
try coloured filters as someone else cleverly suggested - perhaps a hint of
green or red to contrast with the blue arcs). The toroid should be
adequately illuminated by the discharges. Allow for an exposure (on the
'bulb' or 'B' setting) of between 3 secs (to get just one or two streamers)
up to 30 secs for that true 'storm of electrical fire' look - As you are
using little or no ambient light the longer exposures only mean that you
are catching more streamers, not bleaching out the whole frame. Black and
white can be fun too, though - you can then tinker with the processing for
the best effects - and also maybe try some of that lovely T-Max 3200 stuff
(I'm going to try pushing this up to 16000 to get some bright but short
exposure stuff for studying individual arcs more closely). I am also
planning my big Kirlian table (ie man-sized!) and finding a trusted friend
who'll promise not to turn that variac up too far....

And, of course, a tripod and cable release is a must!

Happy Snapping

Alex Crow

From: Tesla List <tesla-at-pupman-dot-com>
To: tesla-at-pupman-dot-com
Subject: Tesla Coil Photography
Date: 29 July 1999 01:01

Original Poster: Terry Fritz <twftesla-at-uswest-dot-net>

Hi All,

My pictures of streamers did not turn out well and I could use a little

I posted my "best" picture ( the one the shop bothered to print) at:


This was hand held, florescent lights without the florescent filter, ASA
100 film, 3.5 aperture, the camera was controlling the exposure (thank
goodness, or it may have turned out bad :-))....

First let me tell you what I have...

Minolta X-700 manual camera that seems to like working around TCs.
Has auto exposure and aperture priority which is probably not of any use
for TC work...
Minolta 35-70 Macro lens with speeds of 3.5-22.
Minolta 1:1.4 lens with speeds from 1.4 to 16.
Kodak Royal Gold 400 and 1000 speed film.
Tripods, popular filteres, and flex shutter cable.

So.... I should be set, but...  I am NOT the worlds greatest photo guy.  I
have read the books and even take "Popular Photography" but I am just not a
"natural" at such things...  I get all the technical stuff and I have a
good understanding of what all the setting do but the "skill and
experience" factor is a definite problem...

For the last set of attempted pictures, I used 100 speed film with the 3.5
aperture.  The exposure was about 5 seconds using the "one Mississippi, two
Mississippi" timing method with the camera hand held and working the variac
with the other hand...  I will use the tripod and flex shutter cable next
time...  One problem was that the film and lens speed (100, 3.5) were not
great enough for an arc to burn an image on the film with the available RMS
light from the arc.  Thus, I figure, faster film and perhaps the 1.4 lens
are needed (I have been reading the archives on this).  If there is enough
ambient light for the camera electronics to do the exposure, it does a good
job light wise but the streamers seems dim (with 100 speed film) thus I
guess the 400 speed would be much better (I have 1000 too).

Sooo...  I have the "stuff" and know "some" things but I was just wondering
if anyone had any suggestion as to the film, aperture, time... (especially
the time!!) settings to get me into the ballpark for a sort of dark room.
I realize that there are variables and I'll have to try things, but I seem
pretty darn far away at the moment...  The room is usually pretty dark but
I can make out the coil and other objects ok so it is not pitch black...

Any advice is welcome.  I hate to go through a bunch of sessions and film
just to START getting reasonable pictures...