Water is one of the most versatile subjects one can photograph. The very nature of water, though, means that it’s wet, so it can be messy and potentially dangerous. Working with it to shoot portraits in a home studio especially so. It’s not impossible, though. You just need to plan ahead, prepare properly, and perhaps have a friend along to help out.
As photographer Gavin Hoey demonstrates in this video, it can be done with very minimal equipment. With just one light, a paddling pool, and plenty of towels, Gavin makes short work of this session. Although, you might want a slightly larger pool than the one Gavin’s using.
Personally, I prefer my water in lakes and rivers, but it’s great fun to work with in the studio, too. The main trick is to use flashes with a short enough flash duration that it freezes the water – assuming that’s the look you’re going for. Traditionally, this meant speedlights, where reducing the power could get you some incredibly fast flash durations.
Now, though, with units like the Einsteins and Godox AD360II, you can get flash durations with a lot of power that are still quick enough to freeze motion.
As mentioned, an assistant to pour the water while you shoot is pretty much essential in such a setup. And you’ll need a very patient subject. You might get lucky and get what you need within a few shots. But, you also might need to throw water at their face 30 or 40 times to get the shot you really want. Water’s just that random.
If you’re throwing water horizontally like this, rather than pouring it from above, then you’ll want something to “catch” the water. Here, Gavin uses a big plastic sheet to catch the flying water and guide it into the pool. Worth it, though.
Many studios that regularly do liquid based portraits have what’s typically referred to as a “wet set”. They’re built with this exact purpose in mind. But. if you don’t have a suitable studio nearby, now you know how to do it at home.
Just make sure you’re throwing warm water at your subject. Or they might just get a little upset with you.