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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
After that, all that’s left is to adjust colors and contrast. And voila! Your perfect chocolate splash photo is ready!
Try It Again
You can create a ‘bouquet’ of tropical fruits with a juice splash. Or shoot an ice cream with a dynamic splash of milk.
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.
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!