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All Photos Courtesy of James Lout

One of my favorite things to photograph is liquids splashing. There’s something about capturing something that moves too fast for the eye that really intrigues me.

If this type of photography intrigues you too, then you’re in the right place.

What You’ll Need

Some of the items you’ll need for photographing splashing liquids are:

  • Off camera flash. I use Paul C Buff Einsteins because they have a very short flash duration in their Action Mode. Speedlites powered down will also work. 
  • A plastic drop cloth. You don’t HAVE to have one, but afterwards you might wish you had!
  • Remote trigger for your camera if doing this solo. You can use your camera’s timer and just try and time it if you don’t own a trigger already or set your camera close to your setup so you can trigger it manually.
  • Patience. You seldom get the shot you want the first time.
  • A tripod.
  • You may also want to cover your camera with cellophane, just in case any stray splashes head that way.

Set Up

OK, so first things first, the set-up, sorry for the quality, it’s a cellphone image. For this shot I used an acrylic base bought on Amazon, I really like the reflections it gives. This shot was taken after I was finished and as you can tell, it gets very messy. Even with some distance from the background you can see milk all over it. I’m also using the Blue Jay Seamless Paper Backdrop from Savage Universal.

When setting up my lights, I always try to angle them away from the backdrop to eliminate, or at least minimize any spill light.

As for my camera set up. I always shoot at my camera’s sync speed. So in this case for the Canon 5D iii that’s 1/200. I used a Tamron 28-75mm lens at 75mm and f/11 ISO 400. These settings might not necessarily work for your set up though. The main thing that matters is flash duration. You want to keep your lights at a very low power setting and you want a relatively small aperture to ensure all the splashes are in focus. Shutter speed and ISO can then be adjusted to compensate for your exposure. I use a flash meter, the Sekonic 478-DR, so I don’t have to guess or take multiple test shots.

Now it’s time to place your vessel of choice. I like to use Libbey glasses, just because I like their shapes, but any glassware will do. Once you have that placed, look through your view finder and set your focus point right above the glass, set your lens to auto focus, place your hand sideways across the middle of the glass, and using your trigger, or your hand if the camera is close enough half press your shutter button to focus on your hand. Once set, change your lens to manual focus. See this image for how to place your hand.

Fill the glass that you have set-up, if you haven’t already done so very close to the top. Be sure to carefully clean up any drops that may have appeared while filling the glass. Now take a picture.

You’ll want this image later when combining images to have a clean base.

Now that everything is set up and focused, we’re ready for the fun, albeit messy, part.

The Fun Part

Fill another glass with milk, or whatever liquid you’re using for this and start tossing the milk into the glass, trying to time the shot with the impact.

Keep filling up your glass to toss and take a few pictures before checking your progress.

Editing

Once you have enough images that you’re satisfied with, upload them into your editing program of choice. I always start in Lightroom and do all my initial edits there. Make sure whatever program you use, you do the exact same edits on each image, or they won’t match up color wise in Photoshop.

Now that everything has been edited, open them in Photoshop as layers. In Lightroom, just select the images you want to use, click Photo, edit in, and open as Layers in Photoshop.

Make sure that first clean image is the bottom layer. With the layer above it selected create a layer mask and using a black brush paint away all the mess from the base and any pouring you don’t want in the image and spots from the backdrop, if any. You can use just one image and the clean base or multiples if you want. I used 2 different images to create my final image here. I then bring the image back into Lightroom for any extra editing such as clarity or white balance adjustments. I’m sure you might be able to do that in Photoshop, I just prefer Lightroom for it.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask I’d be happy to clarify anything.

James Lout

When I was a teen, I was looking through a drawing section of my local library and happened across a misplaced book, it was a book on black and white photography by Ansel Adams. From that point on I was infatuated by photography. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to pursue it until I joined the Marines and bought my first SLR camera in Hong Kong in 1998, a Canon 888. I think I photographed anything and everything I could and, of course, a lot of black and white. Fast forward to 2011 and I decided to take this hobby of mine to something more so I upgraded to digital and started studying the technical side of photography. I took my first photograph of freezing liquids with flash with that new camera, a Canon 60D, and was hooked and still today liquids is one of my favorite things to shoot when not photographing portraiture. Check out my website here.    Learn More

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