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Capturing splashes with food and drink photography

Watch video: Master splash photography

Still-life photography allows us to take control over every aspect of our image. We can arrange our props how we like and change the lighting to our heart’s content, until we achieve the image we want. With the camera on a tripod, we can tweak compositions, and shoot in moody low light, if we desire – with a static shot, shutter speed becomes irrelevant. 

However, we’re going to show you how to add a little expression to a still-life shot by including a sense of movement in your scene. Our subject is a bottle of rose lemonade, and to add interest, we’ll dress the scene with a glass of the sparkling beverage, include a rose and a couple of lemons as the backdrop – frozen as they splash into a container of water. 

(Image credit: Rémy & Esmé Lloyd / Digital Camera World)

While our camera is still locked solidly in place on a tripod, timing becomes everything. As well as ensuring we hit the shutter at the precise moment the falling lemons enter the frame, we have to freeze the moment to avoid unsightly subject blur, which we’ll do with a set of studio lights. 

We’ll employ some other tricks too. We want our lemonade to look ice-cold and refreshing, with that straight-from-the-fridge look. However, hot studio lights would quickly melt ice cubes in our drink and evaporate any condensation forming on the bottle and glass, so we’re going to have to fake things a little…

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Step by step

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(Image credit: Rémy & Esmé Lloyd / Digital Camera World)

1. Prep your frame

You’ll need two bottles of your chosen beverage – it’s best to choose stylish ‘boutique’ bottles, rather than something from the supermarket ‘value’ range. Coat the label of one with clear varnish so that it remains waterproof when the water droplets are applied. Then pour some of the sparkling drink from the second bottle into a clean glass tumbler until it’s half-full, and place them on a reflective surface. 

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(Image credit: Rémy & Esmé Lloyd / Digital Camera World)

2. Dress the scene

We positioned a rose between the bottle and the glass, in front of a tank full of water. Top up the tumbler with acrylic ice cubes – real ice will melt too quickly. Next, mix a combination of water to glycerine at a ratio of approximately 2:1 and spray onto the bottle and glass tumbler to give them that refreshingly chilled look.

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(Image credit: Rémy & Esmé Lloyd / Digital Camera World)

3. Camera settings

Set the shutter speed to the flash sync determined by the Nikon body – in this case 1/200 sec. Set an aperture of f/11 to give plenty of depth of field, and ISO100 for max image quality. Focus on the bottle, then switch to manual focus to lock it in place and turn off the lights. A test shot should produce a very underexposed dark frame. 

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(Image credit: Rémy & Esmé Lloyd / Digital Camera World)

4. Let there be light

In this project we’re using three studio lights – a key, a fill and a backlight – all set at different power outputs to light our scene in a subtly balanced way. Position the key light to the right of the setup; the fill to the left and the third light behind the tank, with a translucent diffuser in between to soften up the lighting in the backdrop. 

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(Image credit: Rémy & Esmé Lloyd / Digital Camera World)

5. Power to the lights

Having lit our scene, the very short flash duration will freeze the lemons as they splash into the tank behind. It’s the varying power of the key and fill that give form to our bottle and props. The rear light diffuses through the liquid in the bottle and the glass, emphasizing the drink. Take a test shot and adjust the power of the lights until you have a balanced setup. We had the key at three quarters power (7.5), the fill at half (5) and the back light at full (10), creating a soft, even light through the double diffuser.

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(Image credit: Rémy & Esmé Lloyd / Digital Camera World)

6. Take the plunge

Ask your assistant to drop the lemons into the tank on the count of three and estimate when to release the shutter. It’ll take a few attempts to nail the shot, so use a squeegee to clean the front and rear of the water tank of splashes, ready for the next shot. If you shoot tethered, you’ll be able to better inspect the detail on your computer screen.

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