The stroboscopic effect is a visual phenomenon caused by aliasing that occurs when continuous motion is represented by a series of short or instantaneous samples. It occurs when the view of a moving object is represented by a series of short samples as distinct from a continuous view, and the moving object is in rotational or other cyclic motion at a rate close to the sampling rate. It also accounts for the "wagon-wheel effect", so-called because in video or film, spoked wheels on horse-drawn wagons sometimes appear to be turning backwards.
A strobe fountain, a stream of water droplets falling at regular intervals lit with a strobe light, is an example of the stroboscopic effect being applied to a cyclic motion that is not rotational. When viewed under normal light, this is a normal water fountain. When viewed under a strobe light with its frequency tuned to the rate at which the droplets fall, the droplets appear to be suspended in mid-air. Adjusting the strobe frequency can make the droplets seemingly move slowly up or down.
Consider the stroboscope as used in mechanical analysis. This may be a "strobe light" that is fired at an adjustable rate. For example, an object is rotating at 60 revolutions per second: if it is viewed with a series of short flashes at 60 times per second, each flash illuminates the object at the same position in its rotational cycle, so it appears that the object is stationary. Furthermore, at a frequency of 60 flashes per second, persistence of vision smooths out the sequence of flashes so that the perceived image is continuous.
If the same rotating object is viewed at 61 flashes per second, each flash will illuminate it at a slightly earlier part of its rotational cycle. Sixty-one flashes will occur before the object is seen in the same position again, and the series of images will be perceived as if it is rotating backwards once per minute.
The same effect occurs if the object is viewed at 59 flashes per second, except that each flash illuminates it a little later in its rotational cycle and so, the object will seem to be slowly rotating forwards.
In the case of motion pictures, action is captured as a rapid series of still images and the same stroboscopic effect can occur.