Splash Photography

Creating splash photographs can be a lot of fun and most of the time a messy project. If you are interested in giving this a try, here are some things you will want to prepare for.

First, you are going to want to figure out what you want to splash.  If it's a cube of fake ice in a cocktail glass like a above, you will want plenty of the liquid star and some towels to clean up with.  

Each time you drop the cube, a splash occurs and leaves fluid all over you background.  Take some time before you clean up to see how far away you should be, to be out of the frame, be accurate to hit the glass and to determine how large of a splash you are looking for. Once you get this all figured out, along with your exposure, you can clean up and start shooting for real.

 To get a larger wave of a splash, the table was tilted and the camera was tilted at the same angle so when the cube was dropped there is more area for the wave of liquid to escape.

To get a larger wave of a splash, the table was tilted and the camera was tilted at the same angle so when the cube was dropped there is more area for the wave of liquid to escape.

In this example, I placed the drinking glass on a piece of black plastic. I like to use a fairly thick piece of plexi so that it doesn't flex during the shoot. Black works great for creating a nice mirror reflection.   I also had a second sheet of plexi (this one was white translucent) suspended as the background a foot or so away from the glass to avoid having to clean this each time.

Once you get all your splashing techniques figured out, you will have to set the lights to get the perfect exposure.  If you are using continuous lights or shooting outdoors, then you need to get your camera shooting with the fastest shutter speed you can get. Most of today's cameras can shoot at 1/8000 of a second which is pretty fast but not as fast a strobe flash. However, to do that you will likely need a lot of light.  Another way of shooting this kind of thing is using strobe units to provide the light.


I used Profoto B1 portable strobe units.  When set up properly, their flash duration can be 1/19,000 of a second.  Keep in mind that the flash duration is directly correlated to the power of the flash.  The lowest power gives you the faster flash duration.  With that in mind, you will need to have your strobes fairly close to the subject since there is so little light being output.  Also, with every diffuser you put on your strobes, the less light you will get, you won’t get a faster duration, but less quantity of light.

While the Profoto B1 units are great, they are kind of expensive.  If you have the small portable strobes like the Nikon SB910 or Canon 580’sthese strobes can fire off at 1/35,000 of a second, (Canon) 1/38,000 (Nikon) when set at their lowest output.

While these flashes can certainly stop liquid when set on their lowest power, they don’t put out a lot of light at such a low power, so you may need more than one flash unit.  Adding more flash units, can boost your light quantity and not effect the flash duration. Give it a try!


Waterfalls in California

In spite of all the drought conditions that are very apparent every where you go in California, there is at least one place where the revitalizing feeling you get from gazing at a waterfall can still be had. Burney Falls, in northern California even in late July is still a  thriving waterfall scene. 

 McArthur Burney Falls

McArthur Burney Falls


It's official name is McArthur Burney Falls and is located just north of where Highway 299 and Highway 89 intersect.  From the Bay Area it will take you about 4.5 hours to drive there but there are many other activities to keep you busy for a couple of days in that part of the state.

The falls are fed by an underground spring that is in turn fed by high elevation snow melt. The underground spring, filters through the rocks in the face of the cliff and spouts out at many different spots, giving it a surreal effect of hundreds of waterfalls in one place.

If you go, and want to photograph it, bring a tripod with you.  Because the falls are so abundant you will want to slow your shutter speed down to capture that dreamy feel of water cascading down the cliff.  You may also want to try a Polarizing filter to cut down on the glare off the rocks and to help you reduce the light that is seen by you camera  sensor.  This might be just enough to let you shoot at a few seconds or slower for your shutter speed.


Most people would show up with a just a wide angle lens but a fellow photographer David Bozsik, alerted me to the prospect of using a 70-200 zoom to capture parts of the waterfall for some unique perspectives.  Another tip I got from David was to go early in the morning before the sunlight has a chance to create too much contrast in the trees and mountain side.  Also keep and eye out for Osprey as we saw a few nesting nearby.

Shooting Low

There are many options out there for support for your camera and not much can substitute for a good tripod. However, your day to day tripod may not work in every situation.  As is the case in shooting low to the ground. 


I use the Induro Hi-Hat tripod.  My short tripod  is fitted with a Really Right Stuff ball head, so that I can fit all my accessories with Arca Swiss attachments (camera plates).

What I like most about this little dude is that it's very sturdy and it can get me very close to the ground. The legs can splay all the way out to get shots only a few inches from the ground.  The bowl supports a 100mm bowl that quickly can get you square and with the bubble levels you can make sure everything is plumb.


With this trip to Moab, UT, I found myself one morning looking at small temporary, rain filled ponds that had formed on the rocks from the storm that just cleared before dawn.  This kind of subject matter can offer all kinds of opportunities to see your surroundings a little different.

Since these small ponds will be dry by about 11 am, you have to work fast and get the camera down low.  This is where the Induro is perfect for being able to shoot with a wide depth-of-field to capture not only the water but what's reflecting in the water.

Try getting your camera down low and see things in a whole new way.

Copyright 2015, Terry VanderHeiden