Water Splash – High Speed Flash Guide

Water Splash – High Speed Flash Guide

Hi everybody, in this blog post I’ll share how I’ve done some of my freezing motion photos of fruits in water. When I set out to do it I was really looking to create some high contrast images of fruits splashed in the water.

I was really keen to get an underwater shot feel with the edge between air and water present. I didn’t have a underwater hosing and honestly I don’t believe I needed to go that far for it so instead I chose a much more “friendly and controlled” setup of shooting in my living room :).

I bough a cheap aquarium made of glass, which I filled with water and also bought a small squeegee to clean the front and back of the fish tank from water drops between each shot. I then went to the nearby farmer’s market and bought some fruits that I can drop in the water. What I needed next is to create the actual setup for the shoot.

I’ve created a diagram so it is easier to explain.

Water splash - light setup
Water splash - light setup


My camera was set on a tripod and I used my Canon 18-135 IS STM kit lens. The aquarium was set on a table for convenience so that I didn’t need to shoot on the floor. Behind it I put a black background.

Then I went on to position my flash lights. I used 4 lights. The first light as it’s numbered in the light setup diagram was positioned about 30-45 degrees to the right of the middle of the aquarium. It was also about 15-30 degrees below it so the fruits were going to be lit a little from below.

Light number 2 was positioned about 10-15 degrees sideways and almost on top of the aquarium so it can light both the water surface and the top part of the fruits.

I then went on to position flashes 3 and 4 pointing straight at the aquarium from each side. Vertically they are both just about below the surface of the water. I used 4 flash lights but to be honest I strongly believe you can go on and use just the first two and skip lights 3 and 4 if you don’t have 4 flash lights.

For syncing my camera to the flash lights I used Yongnuo YN560-TX controller. I chose it because my 4 flash lights were the manual YN-560IV that have a built-in receiver and by using the controller I could not only sync but also alter their power and zoom.

As the setup is quite small in size you can actually go ahead and use any flash lights you have and can fire off camera. The theory behind the setup is that I was going to shoot in a dark room with almost no outside light. This way even though I’ll be shooting at about my max X-sync speed the only light would come from the flash lights and since I use low power for all of them (between 1/32 and 1/128) their light duration will be less than 1/4000 of a second – fast enough to freeze the motion of the fruits splashing into water.

Actually since that was the case I went on to use 1/160 sec but it wouldn’t have made any difference even if went down do 1/30 sec. Once the scene was set I put on fruit so I can pre-focus the lens and switch to manual focus. This way I ensured that every photo will be sharp. I also chose to shoot with aperture of F16 so that all parts of the scene will be in focus but later on I was sorry because I was using an APS-C camera body and at F16 I actually lost some sharpness due to diffraction. For a second shoot using APS-C camera I wouldn’t go farther than F8.

Note: Make sure that there’s no light from the flash going into your background so it stays black on the photos.

Next was the actual shoot. As I need to manually drop the fruits in the fish tank and also trigger the shutter of the camera almost at the same time I used a wired remote shutter.

You can have a person helping you with dropping the fruits but this way it will be much harder for you to trigger the shutter at the right time. Speaking of knowing when to trigger the shutter – it took me several tries to actually get the right time of the splash and each shot was still not at the same time.

That’s the beauty of shooting digital – you can view the result right away and cost next to nothing to make as many tries as possible so don’t be discouraged if you don’t capture or best shot right from the start.

Note: don't forget to clean up the front and back glass of the aquarium between shots - otherwise you'll end up capturing lots of water droplets in you photos. 

After several dozens of shots I end up with some like the ones below:

Big Splash
Big Splash



Lemon Whirpool
Lemon Whirpool



Pepper splash
Pepper splash



Pepper diving
Pepper diving


After I was satisfied with this I decided to change a bit the setup and shoot some high key shots on white background. I swapped the black background with white one, removed flash 4 and moved flash 3 to light the background at about 1/8 power.

This way I ensured that my background is going to be overexposed as a complete white and won’t turn up some sort of grey on the photos.


Water Splash - White Background Light Setup
Water Splash - White Background Light Setup


These are the photos I came up with this changed setup.


Combo splash
Combo splash



Lemon splash
Lemon splash



Relaxing peppers
Relaxing peppers



Diver
Diver


So what do you think about this? Do you like it or hate it, have you done something similar and would like to share? Tell us in the comments below.

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