Receitas – Baixo Impacto

When one thinks of splash photography, one usually thinks of Edgerton’s milkdrop coronet taken in the early days of electronic high speed flash photography. In fact, that’s the single most iconic image of this specialization. Of course there’s a lot more to it, and today I’m going the opposite direction showing you some tricks of low-impact splash photography, without any special equipment, and better yet, without any mess, simply by controlling the flow of the liquid while taking advantage of the water-dynamics of a proper prop — in our case, a martini-like glassware.

Before we get into it, let’s have a look at our sample below. This red and yellow bell peppers shot was conceive for Kodak during a workshop promoting the release of their DCS digital back in São Paulo a few years ago. Later it turned into a cover story for the magazine Fotografe Melhor # 76:

In such pictures, it seems as if the water is flowing smoothly upon and around the subject, rather than splashing all over the place. Well, there are in fact three variables to watch for in order to control this flow: 1) the height from which you let the fluid fall, 2) the amount of water, 3) the nature of the surface and design of the recipient upon which it lands. Studying these three factors closely, you can refine your technique that can be applied to a great variety of situations. So, on to the recipe! For this setup you will need:

  • 1 sawhorse;
  • 1 tabletop (about 20″ x 30″);
  • 1 black acrylic plate 1/4 ” thick, covering about the same area;
  • 1 thin transparent plastic sheet covering a larger area (about 30″ x 50″);
  • 1 glass bowl like the one shown in the first picture;
  • 1 silver card;
  • Some nice selection of fresh bell-peppers (in our case, red and yellow, Kodak brand colors)
  • 1 water jar or other vessel;
  • 1 bucket;
  • 1 black backdrop.

You will also need for sure to coordinate this action and the exposure with a skillful  assistant . Here is a shot that gives you a basic idea of what the set should look like:

Also of note is that we chose an acrylic surface on account that it is waterproof material. Without such feature, the session would be rendered almost unfeasible, given the trouble of changing the wet surface every new shot. Now that we have the basic setup clear, let’s go on to the steps needed to produce our shot:

  1. Have the tabletop on the sawhorse — slightly inclined backwards, so as to facilitate the flowing of excess water down the bucket.
  2. Place the plastic sheet in between the tabletop and the acrylic surface, rolling up the sides and the front, making some sort of pool. Roll the rest of the plastic in the rear as a channel, clipping it to the bucket to avoid the water leaking out all over the studio floor — this way you will be able to recyle the water for new tries.
  3. Position the bowl over the plate about 2/3 far from the front.
  4. Have your soft-box with a high-speed flash perpendicular to the bowl, leaving enough room behind it for the action.
  5. Assemble a black backdrop a few feet away from the set.
  6. Mount your camera on the tripod and pre-focus at the desired angle.
  7. Choose your bell peppers and, when arranging them, leave a gap underneath, so that the water flows strategically in between and around the glassware and the peppers.
  8. Refine your lighting using a silver card in order to bring out the highlights on one of the sides of the bowl.
  9. At this point, it’s best to compose, light, meter and click the scene without any liquid, as if it were the final shot. This is done as a back-up post-production shot, just in case your best splash needs some cleaning up during retouching.
  10. Rehearse. With the help of an assistant, try out several different ways to provoke the desired flow. It’s also a good opportunity to adjust to one another’s timing.
  11. Once you are done, watch the action from above the camera, with your finger ready on the shutter-release, instead of peeping through the viewfinder. This way you won’t miss the right timing.

With this we end yet another Splash Recipe. Best of luck!

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