Thursday, 10 March 2011

How to photograph a splash of water

High speed Photography - Water Droplet

Everyone has come across something and at some point had that ‘how did they do that’ question in their mind. Whether you are a photographer, artist or just someone who appreciates unusual images / objects. Needing to know how something is created is often what drives us to learn new skills or improve on old ones. Whether it’s a new song on the radio that you just can’t wait to get home and try and work out on your guitar or an amazing image that you just can’t get your head around.

I have to admit with the internet, video sites and blogs available, discovering secrets to new techniques and ‘how to’ guides is incredibly easy. In this blog I reveal how to achieve an amazing and simple water splash image using basic props and high speed photography.

Firstly you will need the following things:

  • DSLR camera
  • Off camera flash gun with sync trigger
  • A tripod
  • An elastic band
  • A biro pen
  • Remote release cable / camera with remote of timer
  • Macro lens preferable but it can be achieved with a 18-55 or equivalent lens
  • Paint tray or dark plastic tub of the equivalent size
  • Sandwich bag / plastic bag
  • A stand and boom arm or anything that you can rig up that will hold a bag full of water still approx 4-5 ft off the ground.
  • A white piece of matt card
  • A towel!

To start with the most important piece of equipment above is the towel. You may think I’m going mad but trust me grab a hand towel or kitchen towel. You will be dealing with water and electronic equipment which don’t mix! If you accidently spill water on your equipment its good to be prepared trust me!

The setup
1. What you need to set up first is somewhere to have your paint tray / tub to sit. A table or sturdy workmate is more than sufficient.
2. Next get your paint tray and fill it 2/3 full of water.
3. Attach the white card to the paint tray by using either tape or sandwiching the card between the tray and another heavy object. Attach the card in portrait orientation to the paint tray. You want the paint tray facing you length ways with the card attached to the back of the tray. This enables you to have the maximum amount of water between you and the card for reflections.
4. Next get your plastic bag. (Usually a small sealable sandwich bag is a good size) and fill it 2/3 full with water. Seal it and tie an elastic band round it.
5. Set up your boom arm 2 – 3 feet above the paint tray that’s now full of water. Attach the water bag to it with the elastic band. Make sure everything is stable and not going to fall over!
6. Setup your flash gun to the left or right hand side of the card. What you want to do is have the flash gun fire on to the card only. Not in the water. To stop any stray light trial moving the flash further forwards and further back or further up and down. If you get too much spill light in to the water try using a home made snoot. (Piece of card made in to a cylinder shape and slid over the flash head).
7. Almost there…..Setup your camera on its tripod and have it looking slightly down in to the water. The distance between the tray any you camera really depends on what lens you have. Set it up initially so that you can see all the water and just the edges of the tray.

Camera Settings

Flash 1/16
Aperture :F8
Shutter speed : 250/1
Auto White Balance

These are the optimum settings so that you get a nice bright reflection but don’t over expose and get a washed out image. However do experiment with the shutter and flash settings to find the best effect for you. Take some test images and see how the lighting is before you start the water dripping.

If you are happy with what you see then pierce the plastic bag with a pin. You will find that a steady flow of drops come out and 99% of the time hit the same spot in the water tray. This is very important as it will enable you to get the shot you want and keep it in focus.

8. Ok so the water is dripping in the same spot and you need to focus in. You will need to switch to manual focus as auto focus will not be able to cope no matter what camera / lens u have. The secret to focusing on the water droplet is a biro pen!
What you need to do is put the biro in to the water where the drip is entering the water. I have found that a biro with writing on it helps as you can manually focus on the letter where the drip lands. Once you have focused remove the biro and allow the water to settle for a few moments.

NOTE: Try focusing with the biro as vertical as possible, if you position the pen almost flat when you focus then the splash that often bounces out of the water will not be in focus!

Then start taking photos. You will find that if you watch the drip fall and release the shutter a split second after it falls then you will catch the drip entering / bouncing out of the water. Practise makes perfect!

The most appealing photos not only show the splash but a few ripples too. You may have to move your camera or zoom in / out to achieve this. Also try photos from a slightly higher angle and slightly lower angle. You will find what works best for you. However remember that you will need to re-focus every time you move anything!

Once you have got some shots that are keepers and have perfected the technique there are a number of things that you can try to add to the cool effect that you can already create.

Firstly try changing the white balance to tungsten. This will give you photos a very natural looking blue hue.

Secondly (once restoring the WB to AWB) try changing the colour of the background card. Why not try, red or yellow or even a nice pattern of mixed colours?

I hope you have found this blog useful, please leave me any comments or questions at

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