These photos are the results of such experimenting. I had nothing to do, and came across some high-speed drop and splash photos. I thought I give it a try, but it seemed boring and overdone by others, that’s when fire popped in my mind.
- a camera (DUH)
- a flash (or two if you have them, but I made these with one, and so can you)
- a lens with nice depth of field effect (50mm f1.8 used here, cheap but great stuff, must have for any canon user). You can try with kit-lens or a wide angle but don’t expect such spectacular results.
- You also need a tripod, since you almost definitely will use more photos blended for the final image.
- Last piece of camera gear is a cheap but crucial thing for this kind of shot: a remote release, you don’t want to be touching the camera while you are shooting.
- Food dye if you want to color the water
- Zippo fluid for the flames…
- … and a long lighter to make it burn … and a fire extinguisher or a bucket of sand
- An ice-cube for making the splash. (It’s better if you prepare a few in advance. – just Google for the recipe – since you’ll probably wanna keep shooting after first cube melts).
- And you might need a friend to help you out, because there is a lot of turning lights on/off, cleaning and other stuff. You might want to do this in your garage just like I did, or anywhere where you have enough place without anything around to set fire to. A garage is also great because you can open the big door between shots to clear the air, this will be quite smelly and you can get a bit dizzy because of the Zippo fluid, it’s basically gasoline.
The setup is pretty simple. You need a platform that you can put a glass on.
The background on these shots is nothing too specific. I had a big dark material in the back. It was so far away that it looked like a simple black surface because of the shallow depth of field and because the light from the strobe falls off and not lighting it.
On the setup photo you can see a white background on the photos, that’s a way to go too, but make sure you have a water-resistant material, and even then, you have to clean it after every shot. Or you can set it further away and point a strobe at it. For the key light, you need a flash (or two if you have) on the side.
The Game Plan
You need to have water in the glass. You can leave it colorless, or you can use food dye just like I did.
Focus your camera to the glass then switch it to manual so focus stays the same for every shot.
Set your aperture to a low setting to get as much light and you can. Make sure that your depth of field covets the spots just in front and behind of the glass as the splash can go these ways too and you want the splash to be super-sharp.
To get a sharp splash, you can either go with a super fast shutter speed and high-speed strobe sync. or drop to your minimal strobe sync speed which will set the shutter speed at about 1/160 to 1/250.
If you are going with the sync speed, make sure you set the strobe to the lowest setting that will still allow a good exposure. The lower the strobe light, the shorter the flash duration, the sharper the splash.
When you have everything set up, take a shot before you do anything else. You need a clean shot of the glass and the background. so you can use it later for cleaning the final shot.
Make sure you shoot in RAW, so you have the most latitude to play around in post.
Pour a few drops of the Zippo fluid and drop some on the top of your water in the glass (really just a few drops, this stuff is powerful).
If you have a fried to assist this next step becomes easy, but if you are doing this alone… Have the lighter, the ice-cube and the shutter release in your hand at the same time. The fire will disappear quite fast, you have to act quickly.
Light the liquid, (ask your friend to) turn of the lights and drop the ice, hit the shutter release to take the photo.
After this, blow the fire, check the picture. Don’t Panic! You’re not the only one with an ice-cube in the air or already fully in the water, timing is hard without dedicated equipment.
NOW! You have to clean the background (that’s why it’s better to have a distant background). Don’t touch the glass or the paper under it. This is why you made the clean shot before you started, you can use that to have a clean bottom part of the final image.
Now you can try again. Keep trying until you have 3-4 images you are pleased with, because on the computer, you might find them less amazing, it’s better if you can pick a favorite and not have only one drop captured.
Fiddle with color, sharpness, clarity, and so on. Take a decent look at you photo at about 300% and with a healing brush, slowly clean up the background from specs and stray splashes. It makes a huge different.
About The Author
Tamás Danyikó is a 21 years old photographer based in Hungary. He mainly shoots cars and automotive events and races. You can follow him on Facebook here.