One of the more creative photo ideas you’ll find, this cool photo project to try in the comfort of your own home. Take your first steps in high-speed flash photography with this fun technique…
This is a classic. If you’ve always wanted to know how to photograph water splashes, freezing the action with high-speed flash, this is the tutorial for you. Learn the right camera and flash settings and discover the simple splash photography set up you need for pin-sharp pictures.
In addition to a DSLR and tripod, you need:
A glass container
A flat-sided glass container such as a small fish tank or vase is ideal. Make sure it’s big enough to drop your object into. If there’s a curve to the glass, you’ll get unwanted distortion.
A piece of coloured cardboard is perfect as a backdrop. Try to choose a shade that complements the colour of the object you’re dropping for added creative impact.
This technique relies on off-camera flash. Use a cable such as the Nikon SC-17, below, to connect your flash to your camera. There are a variety of other tools that can do this, too.
To diffuse the harshness of the flashlight, use a diffuser. At a pinch you could even try a piece of tracing paper or the end of a plastic milk bottle stuck to the end of your flashgun.
Camera settings and technique:
1. Set up the props
The high, sturdy and waterproof surfaces of your kitchen worktops are ideal for this project. Working with water and expensive camera equipment has the potential for disaster, so being organised and methodical is the best way to avoid a catastrophe. A glass container with flat sides is essential, just like the flat-sided vase used here. For a backdrop, a thin sheet of coloured cardboard is perfect – it’s cheap and more than adequate. As with most home projects, some gaffer tape is vital for keeping backdrops and off-camera flashes in place.
2. Set up your gear
A solid tripod is crucial, along with a lens that will enable you to work in close proximity to your subject – the Nikkor 60mm macro used here was perfect. The trick to this technique is getting the lighting right with off-camera flash. Position the flash to the side, and slightly behind the vase, with a diffuser attached to soften the light. Set the flashgun to one quarter power (see above). You’ll need to watch out for lens flare. To light the other side, use a simple home-made reflector – a piece of card covered in tin foil is perfect. This should be positioned in such a way as to bounce light from the flash back onto the subject.
3. Camera settings to manual…
For the best results you want total control, so switch everything to manual. Focus is critical, so work out where your point of focus will be and use a pen to pre-focus on that point. Keep your shutter speed as fast as possible without going out of sync – in most cases this will be 1/250 sec. Select an aperture of about f/8, which will give enough depth of field to keep everything sharp. Take some test shots, assess your exposure using your SLR’s histogram, and tweak the flash power as required.
4. Drop and shoot
There’s an element of trial and error in capturing the perfect splash. So ensure you’ve got plenty of space on your memory card just in case. Switch your drive mode to continuous and take three or four shots as you release the object – in this case a lime. After a few attempts you should find your groove. Take the time to zoom into your shots on your SLR’s LCD to check the focus is correct.
The end result…
Top tip: timing is everything
Timing is really crucial in this technique, as you can see in these three photos. These were all taken within a fraction of a second of one another with very different results – spot-on (above), too early (below left) and too late (below right). You’ll need to take plenty of shots to capture the perfect splash, so be patient.
Bitten by the high-speed photography bug? Then a high-speed trigger such as the Shutter Beam might be just what you need (from www.warehouseexpress.com for a cool £600). This neat piece of kit can be set up to trigger the shutter when its infra red beam is broken, which is ideal for capturing splash and drop shots like this. It’s not cheap, but it’s got many other useful applications.
Taking it further:
While you’ve got your water-studio set up, why not try a few classic drop shots too? The basic principles are the same – you’ll just need to rig up a container that will allow liquid to slowly drip onto the surface of the water. Also, try experimenting with different liquids such as emulsion paint or milk – their viscosity is different and will alter the characteristics of your splashes. Go to
to see how it’s done…
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