Early stroboscopic devices utilized either intermittent vision or interrupted light; in both cases a spinning or oscillating disk with a narrow radial slot either allowed the object to be viewed at regular intervals or permitted light to illuminate it at successive instants, thus exposing it at precisely the times it reached a given point in its motion. First high-speed photography techniques were invented by American electrical engineer and photographer Harold Edgerton while experimenting with flash tubes, in the late 1920s. Edgerton developed a tube using xenon gas that could produce high-intensity bursts of light as short as 1/1,000,000 second at regular and very brief intervals.
The modern electronic stroboscope employs a gas-filled discharge lamp to produce very short, repetitive, brilliant flashes of light. Typically, a flash duration of about one microsecond (0.000001 second) and flashing rates ranging from 110 to 150,000 per minute are achieved. Using special techniques, flashing rates of more than 500,000 per minute have been obtained.
Due to the short-duration flash it can produce, stroboscope is suited for photographing rapidly moving objects, like liquids, or people, like athletes.