Water splash photography is a form of high speed photography that involves capturing photos that freeze water splashes and water drops. With these water splash photos you can capture images the human eye can’t.
In most instances it is possible to obtain a shutter speed that is fast enough to freeze the action, but when dealing with water splashes it is impossible to freeze the water drops, regardless of what camera is used. The only way to freeze the action of water drops is to use a burst of flash.
In a nutshell the technique for freezing the action of water drops involves using a long exposure duration (typically around 5 seconds or so), getting the action going (i.e. dropping something in to the water to create the splash) and firing a speed light at the appropriate time to capture the action. All of this may sound difficult, and whilst it is a challenge, it is a doable task and one you can do at home.
So how do you go about capturing water splash photos like the one above? Carry on reading and all will be revealed……
Water splash photography - Set up the shot
The first task you have to do when taking splash photography shots is to set everything up, and if you don’t do this before getting the camera out your images will suffer, trust me. Before you even think about getting the camera on the tripod, or even getting the subject ready to drop in to the water, it is crucial to get everything in place.
In order to set up the shot you need to make sure the background is in the right position and crease free (creases will show up on the final image and whilst you can sort them out using photo editing software it is a faff, and it is far easier to remove all creases in the first instance), the lights are in the right place, the water vessel is in the correct spot and the laser (if you’re using one of course) is correctly set. You should never rush setting up the shot, so take your time and get it right first time around.
Water splash photography - Set the lighting, i.e. the flash exposure
With everything set up it is then time to sort out the flash power. In order to do this you need to set the camera on the tripod, put it in location and frame the final shot. Put the camera in bulb mode and set the aperture to f8 – f11 and then focus on the water holding vessel. With the water holding vessel nice and sharp in the view finder turn the lens to manual focus to kill the auto focus. Turn the speed lights to manual and dial in the lowest power setting.
Kill the lights, take a test shot and then review the results. If the water holding vessel is under exposed you need to increase the flash power, kill the lights and take another test shot. If the water holding tank is over exposed you need to narrow the aperture or move the speed lights further from the water holding vessel, take a test shot and review the results.
It is worth pointing out that when setting the power of the speed lights you also need to consider the background and how that is being lit too.
You need to fine tune the lighting until you are totally happy with the results, and only then should you think about introducing the subject you intend to drop in to the water holding vessel to create the splash.
Water splash photography - Sort out the focus
Even though the water holding vessel is nicely in focus this does not necessarily mean the subject that makes the splash is going to be, so the next task is to fine tune the focus. In order to do this you need to get the subject that is going to make the splash, submerge it in to the water holding vessel and then, using the LCD on the back of the camera, get it in sharp focus whilst zooming right in to 100%.
Water splash photography - Take the shot
With everything correctly set up, the flash exposure set the way you want, and the focus accurately set it is now time to take the shot.
To take the shot you need to kill the lights, hold the subject you intend to drop to make the splash over the water, trip the shutter (using a remote shutter release) and drop the subject. Just as the subject hits the water you need to fire the speed lights and then close the shutter.
Firing the speed lights off camera requires flash triggers or an electronic trigger. The electronic trigger is easier to use as it will sort out the timing for you, however if you use flash triggers you will quickly learn when to fire the flash. The electronic triggers are expensive, as you’ve probably guessed and only you can decide whether you can justify in buying one over the (considerably) cheaper flash triggers.
Water splash photography - Clean up the photo
If you manage to get a water splash photo that is perfect straight out of the camera it is a total fluke, or you are exceptionally lucky – and if this is the case I suggest you go out and buy a lotto ticket. All water splash photos will need a bit of cleaning up and editing with some decent photo editing software, and you have to be prepared to do this.
The editing isn’t too complex and the likely adjustments are likely to include tweaking the white balance, tweaking the blacks and whites, boosting the saturation, increasing the contrast and also doing a bit of sharpening. You may also have to crop the photo to improve the composition.
Some people think that editing photos is cheating, however this is not the case and if you want to make your water splash photos the best you can a little bit of tidying up is essential.
Here are a few more images captured using the method above:
"Splash of lemon", "Splash of orange" and "Splash of lime"
The gear I used to capture the above photos included;-
Further reading - photography for beginners
This is not the only article in the “photography tips for beginners” series and there are others besides. So, if you found this article interesting or useful below are the other photography tips for beginners articles you may want to check out.
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Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.
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