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How to Create Delicious Chocolate Splashes in Your Food Photos

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Chocolate photography is all the rage right now. And for good reason – it’s a delicious way to capture the beauty and art of food. But what about chocolate splash photography? This type of photography takes things to a whole new level, capturing the moment when chocolate hits water and explodes in a shower of color and light. It’s mesmerizing to watch, and can produce some stunning photos.

Creative food photography of a doughnut in front of a chocolate splash
This is how our final image is going to look like

Pick Your Props

First of all, we need our hero. This is an object that goes well with chocolate. I’m going to use a small chocolate donut as an example.

If you have some fresh strawberries, cookies with chocolate crumbs, bars of chocolate or a variety of chocolates, those would also work perfectly.

Second, we need a simple kitchen funnel. It will help us shape our splash and give us some amount of control.

And finally, some means to fix the funnel and the donut in the air. I prefer masking tape, a glue gun and a knitting needle I borrowed from my mom. Nothing too fancy.

A flat lay of props and tools for creating chocolate plash food photography
The props here are simple. And yes, including chocolate. I didn’t bother with melting expensive chocolate and just bought some ready-made hot chocolate in powdered form

Gear for Freezing Motion

The most important thing of all gear is the lighting. Sure, you need a camera and a tripod, but the lighting is what makes the splash sharp and clear.

The magical thing that freezes chocolate in motion is not short shutter speed, but short flash duration. The trick for high-speed photography is your light source, not your camera.

Flash duration is exactly what it says on the tin — the amount of time that the flash is actually on, emitting light.

You can use strobes or hot shoe flashes (speedlights). Anything that gives a short enough impulse (about 1/4000 s) will perform perfectly well. This is the exact speed that helps freeze chocolate in motion with all the sharpness!

I use two SB-910 speedlights. They are affordable, easy to use and provide the quick enough impulse for the freezing effect I want.

The important thing to remember is to keep power settings reduced to 1/32 or 1/64 of full power. As the power gets lower, the duration gets shorter. And your speedlights have a better ability to freeze motion.

This results in low light, but that’s why I have two speedlights, not one. If you have only one light source, you can compensate for that by opening the aperture and increasing ISO.

Another thing to pay attention to is your lens. Any lens suitable for object photography would work. I prefer long focus ones, if you have the choice.

For this scene, I used a 105 mm lens. It allowed me to use a smaller background. It also let me stay farther away from the action, keeping my camera safe from accidental chocolate drops.

A tripod is an obvious thing to use since you want to take several photos in a row and combine the best iterations later in post-processing. It keeps your camera steady and frees your hands.

How to Control the Shape of the Chocolate Splash

Splashes are extremely hard to control. I wish I could use special robots to get splashes with exact forms I want. But I have to make do with much cheaper solutions.

One of these is a mundane kitchen funnel.

I wanted to create a splash that can wrap my subject like paper wraps around a bouquet of flowers.

After some experiments with cups and plates, I found that pouring water on the outer surface of the funnel gives me exactly the splash I need!

It’s not precise, but it’s still better than pouring liquids by hand hoping for a lucky shot.

Create food photography shot of berries and water splash
After this experiment with water, I was sure that a simple kitchen funnel is exactly what I need for shooting delicious chocolate splashes

How to Keep Your Gear Safe During Still Life Shoots

And finally, the preparation a lot of us forget to care about. Keeping your equipment safe.

Don’t put any sensitive items in the way of splashes. Cover the floor with a layer of plastic film or some old newspapers. Prepare a container to collect flowing chocolate and a couple of towels.

Try to put your camera as far from the scene as possible. If you can’t do it, cover it with a plastic bag leaving a hole for the lens.

There shouldn’t be too much chocolate reaching your camera, but it’s better to be on the safe side.

Prepare the Scene

Let’s start with fixing the funnel since it’s our main tool for controlling the splash. Because we’re going to pour our chocolate over the funnel, it’s important to keep it steady and fixed.

I taped it to an arm of my usual reflector holder, which is pretty stable.

A funnel fixed to a reflector holder - chocolate splash photography setup

Set Up the Lights

As long as you’re working with a light that provides a short duration, you can use any lighting scheme you like.

My favorite one is this:

  • one speedlight in a small stripbox on the right and slightly behind the scene (the key light),
  • another speedlight behind a large diffuser on the left side (the fill light).

Both of them are set on the low power (from 1/16 up to 1/128) because it shortens the flash duration allowing me to freeze the motion of chocolate.

Set your camera to burst mode (continuous high) to take a few shots in a row.

It’s better to use manual focus. Sometimes autofocus doesn’t work well, especially in continuous mode. It slows things down and you’ll make mistakes.

One more thing to do and you’re ready to shoot!

Take a Test Shot

Before you start pouring delicious chocolate, practice with water. Take several test shots establishing how much you can close the aperture without underexposing the image.

A triptych showing a setup for creating chocolate splash photography
Spending some time to test, plan and prepare saves a lot of time and headache in the future. Also, it saves chocolate since you won’t have to spend so much of it once you know what you’re doing.

Find an angle to pour the liquid from and a cup you like to use. Try different amounts of liquid and different angles. Note how cups of different volumes can affect the shape of the splash.

And pay attention to the distribution of liquid. If you pour too much liquid on the front side of the funnel, it will cover your main object making it invisible.

Take some time to practice just to get a feel for the motion you need to do in order to get the ideal splash.

Fix Your Donut in Place

After all the preparations hang a donut right beneath the funnel. I used a knitting needle and a glue gun to keep it stable, but you can use your own methods, of course.

Just remember that the less fidget motion your items have, the easier it will be to combine the best shots during post-processing.

A donut on dark background - setup for creating chocolate splash photography
Keep in mind that we are going to turn our shots upside down to make the splashes look even cooler. Make sure you have enough space for falling chocolate in the frame.

Is it steady? Good! Take a ‘black canvas’ shot with just a donut looking its best. You’ll need it later when the entire scene will be soaking in chocolate.

Now we’re ready for the fun part!

Pour the Chocolate!

Check if everything is in its place and pour some chocolate on the outer side of the funnel.

Take a sequence of shots. Rinse and repeat.

A triptych showing a setup for creating chocolate splash photography
Not every iteration will go smoothly.

Since your tripod allows you to keep your camera steady, you can try as many times as you like.

The only thing that may stop you is the donut getting all chocolaty and sloppy. But that’s why we needed some tests and practice!

Try not to drown your studio in chocolate and have fun!

Add Some Final Details

To make our final image even better, let’s shoot some sprinkles as well.

Scatter them in the focus area, so you can use this shot later in post-processing.

Falling sugar sprinkles on black background - creating chocolate splash photography

If you’re shooting hot cocoa with marshmallows, take a couple of photos with falling marshmallows. And in case you prefer chocolate bars, scatter some cocoa or even make a cocoa cloud (check out this tutorial on clouds of flour and use the same technique).

These semi-finished products will be really useful as final touches.

Combine the Best Shots in Post-Processing

After we finished shooting and (hopefully) survived the delicious chocolaty mess, it’s time to pick the best shot and give it some polish!

A chocolate doughnut in the foreground of a delicious chocolate splash
This is the take I like best

Take the image with the most beautiful splash, your ‘black canvas’ shot and a take with sprinkles. Place them on separate layers one above another like a sandwich.

Click on the ‘Add Layer Mask’ button in the layer window. Invert the mask by typing ‘Ctrl-I’ (‘Cmd-I’ for Mac) to hide the entire layer.

Select a large, soft brush, change the foreground color to white and paint at the area you want to be visible.

Or don’t invert the mask and paint with black color in the area you want to stay hidden. Since our background is quite smooth, that should be nice and easy.

A screenshot of editing chocolate splash food photography in Photoshop

Finally, delete all visible supports for the donut with the Clone Stamp or Patch Tool.

A chocolate doughnut in the foreground of a delicious chocolate splash
My best shot combined with sprinkles and one more splash

After that, all that’s left is to adjust colors and contrast. And voila! Your perfect chocolate splash photo is ready!

A chocolate doughnut in the foreground of a delicious chocolate splash
And finally, a chocolate splash in all its deliciousness!

Try It Again

This trick may find a lot of use in creative food photography. I strongly suggest trying it with milk, orange juice or coffee.

You can create a ‘bouquet’ of tropical fruits with a juice splash. Or shoot an ice cream with a dynamic splash of milk.

A creative shot of a falling coffee cup mid splash

And if you’re more into cold still life images, try it with water and flowers. Here are some examples to get your imagination running.

A creative food photography shot of falling berries and water splash

Shooting splashes may seem tricky, but it’s not that hard. Sure, it’s messy and requires some patience, but in the end, the resulting image is totally worth the effort.

Capturing action that’s too fast for the human eye makes the perfect recipe for stunning images, especially if you are going to use some mouth-watering chocolate as your main subject.

Best of luck with your experiments! Stay inspired!

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