They are omnipresent on the decoration shelves in furniture and garden stores: pictures of fresh fruit and vegetables, dropping into water with big splashes. The idea obviously isn’t new, but it poses a challenge nevertheless: how do you take such photos? This is the perfect task for a grey and windy weekend when you don’t want to go outside.
A little research on the internet quickly showed: it actually doesn’t take that much. The only thing missing here was a suitable, rectangular glass vessel. Our vases are all round, which doesn’t work for this setup because the flash would be reflected in the image. After some consideration, I decided for a 25 ltr. (6.5 gal.) aquarium from a local hardware store. I will certainly use it for more experiments like this in the future, so the expense of 20 Euros was easily justified.
The pictures were taken on the dining room table, and the setup can easily be explained:
- I used my Canon 760D with the Tamrom SP 90mm ƒ/2.8 Macro
- The aquarium was placed on top of a box, so that the tabletop behind the aquarium didn’t show in the images
- The first external flash – a Yongnuo YN568 EX II – faced into the aquarium from the left, at the same height as the water level.
- The opposite side was covered with aluminum foil, which served as a reflector
- The second external flash – a Yongnuo YN565 EX II – was directed onto the backdrop, a white foldable reflector, which was placed approx. 3 ft. away.
- The flashes were adjusted and triggered using the Yongnuo YN622C(-TX) wireless remotes.
- I used a simple cable remote for the camera.
The entire setup looked like this:
Auto-exposure won’t be of any help, because the images need to be deliberately over- or underexposed (for white or black background), and autofocus is useless as well because it won’t pick up the falling fruit in the water; at least not fast enough. So everything needs to be set manually. The first thing I did was to place a roll of wrapping paper across the aquarium, and then let a ruler dangle from it at the point where I wanted to drop the fruit into the water. Then I used the camera’s Live View mode to manually focus on the ruler. Next, I set the exposure:
- Camera settings: ISO 100, ƒ/8.0, 1/200 sec.
The settings are chosen so, that an image taken without flash will be completely black. I used an aperture setting of 8 to have the depth of field big enough so that the fruit would still be sharp even when I don’t drop them at the exact point I focused on. If you work on this experiment yourself and you still see some of the surroundings (e.g., a bright window) in the image with these settings, close the aperture even further to e.g. ƒ/11. If you want to use a faster shutter speed, you need external flashes that support high-speed sync. However, the shutter speed is not relevant for these images anyway, because the motion is frozen by the duration of the flash – which is much shorter than 1/200th of a second.
The flashes are set next. You will have to adjust these to your respective lighting conditions, so the values given here are just for reference. For the images with the white background I started by adjusting the rear flash. I turned the over-exposure warning (the ‘blinkies’) on my camera on, and then set the flash so that part of the background was shown to be over-exposed. You shouldn’t set the flash too bright, though, because otherwise the white background will outshine the water splashes and the rims of the fruit.
Following that, I used a few test images to adjust the aquarium flash so that the white areas of the lemon slice were not over-exposed. This flash will use a much lower setting. You might have to adjust it depending on the target object; a darker orange slice will need more light than a bright lemon. For the images with black background, the rear flash was simply turned off, and the aquarium flash was adjusted accordingly, because of the missing backlighting.
- Flash settings for white background:
- Background: 1/4 + 0.7
- Aquarium: 1/64 + 0.7
- Flash settings for black background:
- Background: off
- Aquarium: 1/8 + 0.3
With the proper fruit at hand, I stood next to the aquarium, holding the remote shutter release for the camera with one hand, and then started my routine. It was easier than I thought it would be. You’ll quickly get a feeling for how to drop the fruit and when to press the shutter release. I only had a few frames where the timing was completely off.
Some luck is required however, for how the various objects hit the water. It may happen that you’ll see the lemon slice edge-on, or that the apple wedge casts a big shadow onto the orange.
All in all, it was a lot of fun and made for an entertaining afternoon. The required effort and equipment are very reasonable – you can take these images even with just one external flash; instead of the aquarium you might just as well use a square vase, and for the background you can use some cardboard, or a tablecloth.
TIPS & TRICKS
When you do something like this for the first time, you’ll quickly learn that there a number of details you didn’t think of initially – and which you can improve on next time. Here’s an overview of my ‘lessons learned’, with no guarantee for completeness:
- After every (literally every) drop, wipe dry the front and rear glass panes of the aquarium – a microfibre cloth is perfect. This is a bit tedious, but it will save a lot of time in post-processing; especially in the images with black background.
- When working with citrus fruit, take the images with black background first, the ones with white background later. At every drop, these fruit will shed little pieces of pulp, which float around in the water as bright fuzz. This is much less noticeable in the white images, or at least it can be more easily removed in post. At some point in time, you will have to replace the water entirely. If you also have other objects you want to drop, use those first.
- Take care with the background and the surface you set everything on: I put a plastic blanket on our wooden table to protect it from the water. A blue plastic blanket. With red balloons on it. Haha. Find the mistake. The glass panes of the aquarium as well as the water surface relentlessly reflected this pattern – when you take a close look at the images above, you will see the blue with red dots in some of the water splashes. Next time, everything will be covered black or white.
- If you want to capture fruit and splashes above as well as below the water, the flash pointing into the aquarium has to be at the same level as the waterline. At first, I had positioned it a bit lower – with the consequence that its light was diverted by the surface of the water, and everything above the waterline remained dark. An alternative setting is to position the flash high above and a bit to the side, pointing down into the aquarium. This will mimic a natural light setting, as provided by the sun.
Recommendation: Kids, do try this at home! It’s the ideal occupation for a dreary afternoon, and as a bonus you’ll learn to work with your flashes and how to set up the lighting correctly.
What I’ve learned: Practice makes perfect – I’ve already written about most of my learning experience in the Tips & Tricks above. I will certainly make more experiments of this kind in the not too distant future…
- YouTube Tutorial: Splash Photography (similar setup)
- YouTube Tutorial: Splash Photography (slightly different setup, and including post-processing)
Picture Credits: All pictures – own images.