Splash photography: how to freeze motion and capture split-second action

Splash photography 01

Capturing the exact moment a falling object splashes into liquid can produce amazing photos, but to get good results you’ll need sound camera skills, the right kit, and a good deal of patience. In this splash photography tutorial we’re going to show you how to shoot a staple of TV cereal ads – the classic combo of strawberries and milk.

The aim is to freeze the motion of the falling strawberry at the split second it breaks the surface of the milk for spectacular close-up splash photography.

It’s not an exact science; you might nail the shot on your first try or your hundredth, but that’s all part of the fun!

As well as the strawberries and milk, you’ll need a tripod and a flashgun. Frontal flash destroys depth, and depth is exactly what we need in order to capture the contours of the splashing milk, so we’ll light the splash from the side by firing the flash off-camera.

We also need to make sure the flash duration is short, in order to freeze the motion without blur.

SEE MORE: Flash photography tips – external flash techniques anyone can understand

Splash photography step-by-step: 1-3

01 Set up the shot

Fill a wide tray with milk. Things can get a little messy, so lie a towel underneath, and keep plenty of kitchen paper to hand. Mount your camera on a tripod and compose the shot, using a long focal length so you can keep the camera away from the spray of milk.

It’s hard to predict how far the splash will spread, so frame the shot loosely; you can crop in tighter later if necessary.


02 Pre-focus

We need to pre-focus on the spot where we intend the strawberry to hit – this will be our ‘drop zone’. Place a small, heavy object in the milk, then focus on it and switch the lens to Manual focus to lock it.

Next we need to make sure we land precisely on this spot: here we’ve rigged a wire hanger directly above the spot, so that when we drop the strawberry through the loop it’ll land within the plane of focus.

SEE MORE: High-speed photography – how to use flash, not shutter speed, to freeze action

03 Light the splash

We’ve used a Gloxy flash to light the scene, positioned to the left and angled down from above. We can trigger the unit using our DSLR’s pop-up flash. First set the flashgun to act as a slave – this means it’ll fire when another flash triggers it.

Next open the pop-up flash, go to the Built-in Flash options in the Flash Control menu, and dial in a low flash power of 1/128. Our pop-up flash will now trigger the flashgun, and it’ll also act as a fill flash to lift the shadows.

Splash photography step-by-step – 1-3
Splash photography step-by-step – 4-6


High speed photography ideas: how to capture water balloons at the point they explode
What is flash sync? Your flash modes and when to use them (free cheat sheet)
Water drop photography: make a splash with high-speed flash
Common mistakes at every shutter speed (and the best settings to use)
Off-camera flash: how to stop fearing your flashgun and take control of lighting

  • I’d just like to add that a remote trigger really comes in handy for this type of photography. With the remote trigger, you eliminate most if not all of the chances of blurring the shot by pressing the shutter release button. So, assuming that everything else is set right, you should be able to get nice, tack sharp shots.