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Ever tried to freeze motion in your photography? Or tried water splash photography in the summer? If not, this is the article for you.

And if you have, this is still the article for you as we’ll show you how to have fun photographing water splashes.

We are going to create a shot with chill drinks, dynamic splashes, and a fun atmosphere for creative food photography!

A fun food photography shot of oranges with cool water splash photography frozen above

My favourite thing about photo equipment is that the best camera is the one you have with you. The same is true about lighting and any other gear.

I’m not going to tell you that you need an arsenal of fancy equipment for shooting splashes. Sure, it’s always better to have cutting edge strobes. Or special machinery that gives you control over each detail in your scene.

Or even robots that can provide control over the flow of the splash, its speed, the shape it takes, the amount of poured liquid and other parameters.

All these things make life easier, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create beautiful water splash photography without them.

So, we’re going to shoot water splashes using two speedlights and a glue gun. That’s all you need.

 Lime slice, ice, mint leaves and a dynamic water splash of mojito or lemonade on a bright blue background. Refreshing summer drink concept with copy space.

This is the scene we’re going to work on: dynamic, vibrant and refreshing

1. How to Freeze Motion

First of all, we need a light source. That’s the most important thing. It must be suitable for shooting high-speed scenes. You can use strobes or hot shoe flashes (speedlights).

In my case, the scene is lit with two SB-910 speedlights. These are an affordable and easy to use solution for frozen motion problems.

You can use anything that has a short enough flash duration though. This is a characteristic of any flash or strobe. It refers to the length of time that a light source emits light for a single burst.

Food photography triptych showing frozen food and water splash photography on forks

All these shots were made with speedlights

Since you are shooting in a dark setting (and you should!), the flash duration will become your shutter speed.

The light will be hitting the sensor of your camera for only the amount of time the flash is working, lighting the scene.

It won’t matter if your shutter speed is set for 1/250 of a second or for a half a minute.

If there’s no ambient light available, the flash is the only visible light source. This way a camera sensor is only exposed to the light for the duration of the flash.

To avoid blurred drops, take one shot with the speedlights turned off. Make sure this shot looks like a black rectangular. That means there’s no excess light.

Dynamic water splash photography with a glass of mojito or lemonade on a bright blue background. Refreshing summer drink concept with copy space.

1/4000 of a second is enough to keep the motion of splashes sharp

In my experience, short enough flash duration for water splashes is about 1/4000th of a second. But obviously, the faster the better.

This is the speed that helps freeze liquid in motion and keeps all the drops sharp and clear. Pick a speedlight or a fast enough strobe.

Also, check your manual and find if the impulse speed of your light source is at least over 1/4000s.

It’s possible you will need to lower the power of your speedlights a bit to reach a required impulse speed.

I have to set the power of my speedlightss at about 1/8 or even 1/128.

2. Pick Your Photography Props

Beside the light source suitable for shooting at high speed we will need:

  • camera and a tripod,
  • a transmitter or sync cable for your flashlight (not necessarily, but conveniently),
  • still life items (lime slices, mint leaves, a couple of acrylic ice cubes, and maybe a martini or other cocktail glass),
  • horizontal backdrop (something narrow and lightweight),
  • a vibrant background (preferably a washable and waterproof one),
  • a glue gun.

Cool still life food photography setup with props and tools

A note about backdrops – we need two. One to place the limes on and another to create a brightly coloured background.

For the first one, it’s better to choose something narrow that you can easily take down. I used two narrow wooden boards for interconnecting flooring.

They work great as general food photography backdrops too. Worth keeping even if you’re not about to shoot something unusual and dynamic.

Pick a surface you can turn upside down without much effort. So don’t choose granite or marble backdrops.

And it must be made from a material that can survive a glue gun: acrylic and plastic backdrops are definitely out of discussion.

Wooden boards of any kind and narrow sheets of plywood will be your best friends here.

For a vertical backdrop you can use anything with a vibrant colour. It’s good if this material is waterproof.

In my case, however, I wanted it to be a bright blue colour and the only blue thing I had was a big sheet of coloured paper.

So I set it as far from the action as I could and tried to keep splashes away from it.

3. Keep Your Gear Safe

Remember to take care about the safety of your camera, lighting and other gear. Keep all electric equipment out of the possible way of splashes. Pick a long focal lens to set your camera as far from the action as you can.

Prepare a couple of towels and a stack of paper napkins. Be cautious about the trajectory and speed of the splashes you’re creating.

This may seem obvious, but sometimes we get carried away and forget about the simplest things. So, please, keep your camera safe.

I’m long past worrying about the mess, however. Every project with splashes rises the entropy level in my apartment up to eleven.

I found out that there are only two things I can do about it. First one is to take measures to avoid the mess. Cover the floor with a plastic film. Set a container directly beneath the scene to collect most of the water.

The second is to accept the fact that it’s going to get out of control. Your workplace is going to get messy. The floor is going to get wet.

Keep anything that can be damaged by water (not only gear but any papers and books for example) away from the setup. You’ll clean everything up later so just enjoy the process!

4. Create the Composition

Arrange your limes and acrylic ice cubes in a nice composition. Keep it simple and remember to leave some space for falling drops.

I like pictures that have place to breathe, so I left a lot of empty space for splashes.

You can add other fruits with smooth surfaces. Apples and oranges are good, but peaches and kiwis may be tricky. Or add a cocktail glass with a straw!

Lastly, make sure that it’s a composition you like to see because later there won’t be a chance to change it.

Set up for water splash photography with acrylic ice cubes, limes and glue gun

Acrylic ice cubes are life savers! After water splashes, add some shine to them. They look really refreshing and cool in photos.

5. Fix It in Place

Do you like your composition? Yes? Now it’s time to fix it in place.

Glue every item of your still life to a background. The glue gun works great for smooth surfaces like glass but check everything twice. Just to be on the safe side.

Set up for water splash photography with acrylic ice cubes, limes and glue gun

Don’t be afraid to spoil the cubes, it’s possible to remove the glue from most smooth surfaces.

And yes, glue the mint leaves too. Be careful to put glue on the stems, not the leaves.

The hot glue gun is named pretty accurately and may leave dark spots on tender leaves.

Set up for water splash photography with acrylic ice cubes, limes on blue background

Be careful with the glue, it’s hot and may leave burning spots.

The glue gun can be a rather capricious tool, so be careful with it and don’t leave too many visible glue spots.

They not only can expose your photography trick but also look rather messy.

It’s okay to leave some of the glue visible on, say, acrylic ice cubes. After you make a splash, transparent glue will look almost like water.

6. Turn It Upside Down

Now pick the entire background with glued still life and turn it upside down. When post-processing the image, you will flip it 180 degrees again.

When you set your camera on a tripod, take into account this future rotation.

A creative food photography set up, the still life is upside down ready for trying water splash photography

It’s very important to make sure that your construction is steady and still. Be especially careful with glass items, don’t spare any glue on them and check twice if they hold firm.

Put the backdrop with your composition on any improvised supports that you can find. I used two wooden frames. They’re lightweight, but pretty steady.

Choose anything that is waterproof and can stand motionless under the weight of your backdrop with glued still life.

7. Light It Up

Time to set up the lights. One of my speedlights is inside a stripbox on the right side of the scene, lighting the bright blue background, which reflects some of that light back to the limes and splashes. This is the key light.

Another one is behind a large diffuser on the left side. This is the fill light. It lifts the shadows and adds some volume.

You can use practically any lighting scheme you like, but I strongly recommend to have at least some light coming from the back.

It will make the ice cubes transparent and add some sparkle to splashes and drops!

Again, lower the power of your speedlights to 1/16 or even 1/128. This provides a very short pulse that will freeze the motion of the liquid.

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

Sometimes autofocus doesn’t work well, especially in continuous mode — it slows things down and tend to make mistakes.

Switch your focus to manual mode and put the camera on a steady tripod to get a nice and sharp image.

Finally, set your shutter speed to the flash sync speed – usually between 1/160 sec and 1/250 sec.

From there, take a test shot to establish what maximum aperture you can get without underexposing an image. That’s all, you’re ready to shoot!

8. Let It Pour

Make sure you like your composition and lighting. Take a clean shot. You’ll need it later in case something goes wrong.

Take a breath. Get ready. Pour some water onto limes and mint leaves, create a splash! Take a sequence of shots. One more splash!

Rinse and repeat.

Since your tripod allows you to keep your camera steady, you can make as many tries as you like.

Upside down shot of poruring water onto a still life on blue background

That’s how the scene looks before you turn it at 180 degree

Furthermore, experiment with the bowls you use to pour water. Oblong cylindrical glasses provide elongated splashes with drops on the edges. Vials make smooth splashes.

Also, try pouring water from behind the limes. This way, it will arch behind them and won’t fall to the foreground, making it difficult to see the fruits.

Triptych of food photography set up with water splashes

Clean shot and the most beautiful splashes I was able to get

Most importantly, have fun! Don’t be afraid to make a mess, just keep liquid away from any electronic equipment.

9. Post-Processing Tips

Now it’s time to choose the best splash and tweak it a bit. Get your clean shot, place the shots with splashes you like best as separate layers above it and use Layer Mask to conceal parts that should be hidden.

This should be pretty simple: put layers one above another like a sandwich, create Layer Mask on the first one, use a soft brush to paint in the areas that should be hidden.

I took one shot with the splash forming a beautiful arc above limes and combined it with another splash, which was flying above them not touching anything.

Also, I added a couple of flying drops to make the dynamic more prominent.

Triptych of food photography set up with water splashes

Clean shot and the most beautiful splashes I was able to get

Finally, adjust colours and contrast.

Now you have it, a chill drink for a hot summer day in a piece of most refreshing high-speed photography!

 Lime slice, ice, mint leaves and a dynamic water splash of mojito or lemonade on a bright blue background. Refreshing summer drink concept with copy space.

Ta-da! The shot is ready, time to try it again with something different!

Here are a few other shots made with the same trick.

Dynamic water splash with a glass of mojito or lemonade on a bright blue background. Refreshing summer drink concept with copy space.

Let your imagination run wild and try this antigravity trick with a set of different objects.

Do not limit yourself to mojito or lemonade. This trick works great with coffee, milk and practically any other liquid you can think of.

a creative food photography set up with oranges and water splashes on white background

Here I used the diffuser as a light source and as a background. That worked out pretty well too.

a creative food photography set up with oranges and water splashes on white background

The contents of the glass are glued to its walls. While you’re pouring water into the glass, the blue becomes practically invisible.

It doesn’t have to be food photography either. Try laboratory flasks with zero gravity potions. Try flowers with dew rising back to the skies.

Think of anything that goes well with liquid and try it out.

a creative food photography set up with flower vases and water splashes on white background
Now it’s your turn. Best of luck!

Looking for more great creative photography tutorials? We have a great step by step guide on how to transfer photos to wood or try out some cool cut out photography.

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

Thank you for reading...

CLICK HERE if you want to capture breathtaking images, without the frustration of a complicated camera.

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Thanks again for reading our articles!

Dina Belenko

There is one phrase I always use to introduce myself, it describes me precisely: "My name is Dina and I tell animate stories about inanimate objects". I'm a person with little paper cities, sugar cubes, moon from polymer clay, doll's miniatures, broken cups, handmade Rube Goldberg machine, repainted puzzles, wire trees, cardboard dragons and spilled coffee. And with a photo camera. That's quite essentially me. You can see more of my work here: https://www.instagram.com/dinabelenko/

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