Splash Shots Revealed


By: Nathan Cool

A how-to guide for getting those curious splash shots


Fine Art Photography is a passion of mine. I love to take an idea, work on props, lighting, and post process editing to formulate a photo that will capture the imagination. Being a water lover, you may have noticed a bias of mine towards anything that splashes, like "Attack and Defend", shown here to the right. This, and other similar works are in my Fine Art Portfolio. I'm often asked how I did these kind of shots, and today I'd like to tell you how it's done.


The first thing, to capture this kind of shot, is to use an empty fish tank, or other clear, water-proof enclosure. Then, you setup a black background, and focus lighting into the tank, using some reflectors to help balance the shadows. You don't want to shoot a flash at the front of the tank; instead, you want to shoot from the side, facing down.


This is shown in the following picture:


The setup, once revealed, is far less sexy than the photos that were taken. But, this shows everything with the lights on...that's the other part of the trick to this kind of photography: the lights must be off.


Flashes shed their light at about 1/1000 of a second. The fastest shutter speed you can get out of a DSLR when using a flash is about 1/200 to maybe 1/250 of a second. By having the lights off and only using the flash, the shutter speed almost doesn't matter; instead, action is frozen at the moment light hits the subject...in this case, the water, and anything thrown (or punched) into it.


The rest requires post processing...a necessary step when doing almost any kind of fine art. I use a combination of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to get the effects I want. The main things to consider in post is to:

  1. Cleanup the water. Use a brush matching the blackest color and wipe away all the tons of debris that will inevitably collect in the tank while shooting.
  2. Create an overlay layer of the original, which will add strong contrasts. I usually use an opacity of about 85% in Photoshop.
  3. To add a bit more punch, I often also use a Levels Adjustment layer, but with a mask. I'll erase where the main subject is, especially if it will be too dark or too light. But, I will darken the blacks and bring up the whites just a tad in this layer...it's all about trial and error, depending on the subject being shot.
  4. Lastly, I'll do touch ups in Lightroom. Mainly, I'll use a blue color brush on the water to bring out the blues there. Make sure though it is just a hint of blue to make it look natural.


So there you have it. I suppose I gave away the recipe to Grandma's secret cookies, but I don't mind, and hope this helps if you want to try and do some of these fun shots as well.





No comments posted.