High Speed Splash Photography

by matt on March 28, 2012

I‘ve always wanted to try high speed splash photography where the fruit or vegetables are dropped into a tank of water and you freeze that splash with high speed flash.  I’ve seen several well done tutorials but they have all been done with small 10 gallon fish tanks.  I don’t have a fish tank or really want to spend the money to get one so I decided to give it a try with a pint glass.  I figured worst case I could fill the glass with beer and drown my failure in a good brew.

I needed something to drop in the glass.  I figured a bell pepper would be too big and sweet so I decided to spice it up a bit with a jalapeno.  Later I also tried a cucumber slice and a lemon slice.  Here is a list of the equipment I used (see setup photo) but you could easily do this with less (or more):

  • Canon 7D with Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS macro
  • Manfrotto 055XProB tripod
  • Canon 580EXII + Canon 430EXII Speedlites
  • Pixel King wireless flash triggers
  • Phottix wireless trigger
  • Sheet pan
  • plastic Ziploc bags
  • pint glass
  • spicy jalapeno
High-speed Splash Photography setup

Click photo to view larger size

I decided to do this on the dining room table which in hindsight wasn’t the best idea as there was a considerable splash zone.  I used a sheet pan placed upside down to provide a nice metallic smooth surface and put the pint glass filled with water in the center.  Behind this I placed a sheet of white foam core as the background.  Each Canon flash with wireless receiver was placed in a plastic Ziploc bag to protect it from the splashing water.  I placed the flashes in front of the pint glass and to each side.  I honestly didn’t give too much thought at the time to flash placement and when I do this again I will probably play around a bit with different angles and heights to see what different effects I can get.  In some shots there was some glare from the flash so better placement could eliminate that.

The camera was placed on a tripod and the shutter was tripped with the wireless trigger.  Then I simply dropped the jalapeno into the pint glass of water and clicked the shutter at the same time.  My first attempt resulted in a great photo of a glass of water.  I clicked too early.  The next shot froze the jalapeno right above the water.  It looked pretty cool but I wanted to see some water fly!  The third attempt was money and as I got the timing down I captured some pretty cool splashes.

High Speed Jalapeno Splash

Canon 7D | Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS Macro | f/4.5 | ISO 400 | 1/250th

When taking these initial shots I was shooting in manual mode.  My shutter speed was 1/250th second and my aperture was f/4.5.  My ISO was set at 400.  I used manual focus.  I don’t think these are ideal setting however.  If I were to do this again I would use a smaller aperture in order to get more depth of field to get every single drop of the splash in complete focus.  With an aperture of f/4.5 the depth of field was just to narrow to keep everything sharp.

High Speed Jalapeno Splash

Canon 7D | Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS Macro | f/4.5 | ISO 400 | 1/250th

I also tried a lemon slice which was actually a bit too big for the pint glass so I ended up cutting it in half.  But I did like this drop of a full slice.

High Speed Lemon Splash

Canon 7D | Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS Macro | f/7.1 | ISO 200 | 1/250th

Even though this was just a fun exercise in giving this high speed splash photography a try, I like the results.  There are a few things that I definitely learned and would do differently.

  1. Pick a spot that you don’t mind getting wet because there will be splashing and water is wet.  The garage probably would have been a better choice.
  2. Play around with different backgrounds.  I would have liked to have had one more flash to blow out the white foam core background to pure white.  I would also like to see what a black background would look like.  It might even be cool to try out some flash gels and see what different colors would do.
  3. Experiment more with different apertures and shutter speeds.  I think a smaller aperture (more depth of field) would work better and keep all of the splash in sharp focus.
  4.  Try different levels of flash power (I don’t even know what they were set at for these photos).
  5. Put the flash(s) in different positions to see what effect they have on the image.  I’d like to try this with a flash down low and one up high.  There are lots of possibilities to play around with.
  6. Try different types of glasses, maybe a champagne glass, margarita glass or drop blueberries into a bowl of milk or even a spoon.  The possibilities are endless.
High Speed Lego Splash

You can drop just about anything into a glass of water and freeze it with flash

This was a really fun experiment and I can’t wait to try it again.  Experimentation is fun and remember that the more you shoot, the more you learn and the better photographer you become.  Have you shot high speed splash photography before?  If so what are some of your tips for making great high speed splash images?

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