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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Here are a few other shots made with the same trick.
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.
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.
Now it’s your turn. Best of luck!
Looking for more great creative photography inspiration? Check out our fine art food photography article. We also have a great step by step guide on how to transfer photos to wood or try out some cool cut out photography.