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July 25, 2009
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Double Splash Photo Tutorial by otas32 Double Splash Photo Tutorial by otas32
My current splash studio:

For my own work on Double Splash Photography please visit my website:


Ok, I know I'm relatively new to the Double Splash Photo world, and that there are many many really good experts out there who get a lot more impressive results than what I do still being a newbie at this.
But still, I got asked by several people to help them out with this, and I know from personal experience just how frustrating it is not to know where to start being able to solve the double splash mystery.
So... I put this quick tutorial together, and I hope it will be useful to those who follow it and feel that it helped out.
Oh... if you are one of those, I would love a quick thanks here :D

I'll put a text version here, if you want to paste it in a text document to read as you set yourself up for experimentation :)



How far the camera is from the drops can make a huge difference, it depends in the fact of having an actual macro lens or a regular 55mm lens for instance.
If you do have a true macro lens (I have a 100mm cheap Vivitar macro for instance), a distance from a foot to a foot and a half is about right. But of course it all depends on how much area around the splash you want to have, I like trying different distances to get varied results.

This is one of the biggies. What I do to obtain a decent (not yet perfect mind you) DOF and main focus point is that first I see where the drops are falling. Then I place something that will hold itself vertically, perpendicular to the water surface, sticking up and out at least three inches. Preferentially a cylinder shaped object and about the thickness of a straw. This will allow for me to determine the impact point/focus point. From there (and this comes from macro photography experience) I move back, towards the rim of the cup with the focus, then back to the impact point, then half way back, then back to the impact point, then halfway of the halfway back. That way I can also get focus on the umbrella rim. This will not always work, since the columns don't always jump dead center, and will sway sideways, frontwards or backwards. But at least SOME pics will have decent focus.
Shutter speed and aperture are key factors in the shots as well, since both influence in clarity and sharpness.
F8 (like in most macro shots) is the standard. I shoot at 1/4000 in shutter speed, but that's just me. A lot of experts say 1/250 is good enough. Some cameras will not sync up with speed light flashes enough so that the sensor is completely exposed, so first you have to figure out what your camera can take as the highest sync speed and then go from there. 1/4000 to me, let's me not worry about blurred out moving drops.

Bounced speed light flash lighting is always best. It creates a softer more majestic look than a direct flash that will give harsh shadows and will make the drop look small.
I put a piece of dark cardboard sticking out from under the flash, covering under and to the left (the flash is on the right on most of my shots most of the time) of the light direction, thus I avoid illuminating the drop directly. The flash is almost level with the cup where the drops fall, but not always. Enough to the side to avoid a shadow on the background.
Try additional bounce surfaces as well, sometimes with other colors, this will add volume to the drop and create some very interesting colors in the shadows for the drops and splashes.

Try to avoid making the cup where you make the drops fall to obvious. It's unavoidable that it will show itself some times, since using large containers for the drops to fall into will not always work, because surface tension is primordial for a good bounce (the larger the surface, the less tension it will have), thought I've seen studio setups with huge tanks, so maybe I'm completely wrong there, but I digress...
DOF, and the right camera angle will go a long way for hiding the obviousness of your coffee cup. The background can be anything. Experiment! Flat colors look great, but colorful or textured background make for interesting refractions and reflections.

You need to really control your drips, or your no-shows vs successful double splashes will have a dreadful proportion. In the beginning, mine was of about 100 to 1 (if I was lucky). Even if we're using a digital SLR, and we don't have to worry about wasting film, it's still frustrating and you do kill off your AA batteries in the speed light flash sooner or later.
There's a lot of ways of doing this, the really cool photographers with a lot of techy savvy will set up a rig with motion sensors that will activate the shutter at the right time. They will have digital controlled drips, and other cool stuff.
I'm not technically savvy, and I don't have the patience for such a complicated rig. Besides, this is something I do for fun on my free time. So I look for a simpler solution.
I purchased a foot of home aquarium air rubber hose. Plastic flow regulators for that hose. I cut a small (three inches) piece from the hose and put a regulator on one end. Then I took an empty plastic bottle. Perforated it's plastic cap and put the hose snugly through. Then I made a small hole on the other end of the bottle so as to not create a vacuum as the water falls out.
Then I put the bottle on a improvised pedestal, holding it at a 45 angle over the cup where the drops would fall (the angle is not so important, but placing a vertical non swaying bottle on top of the cup is harder to do).
The ideal drip rate speed is actually very close to a free flow, the flow regulator is almost completely open (remember it's a small hose).
The big secret then is what I received as a suggestion from one of the experts:
Hold a cup under the drip. Let the water surface settle and become smooth, then quickly remove the cup.
I find that the perfect moment (since our brain doesn't make our fingers react instantaneously to what it receives from our eyes) is just before the drop strikes the surface. In reality, from the moment our eyes see the event, our brain registers it from them, then sends the signal to our fingers on the remote trigger (it's best if you have one, but not mandatory), and then for the camera to react from the trigger, enough time has passed for the quick drip to have one drop generate the column and a second drop to hit it on it's way down.
There's still a wasted shot ratio, but it's much much smaller. Mine is about 10 to 1, sometimes less :)
Try several speeds for your drip adjusting the regulator, you will eventually find the perfect one for you.
Height is also something to play around with. My "sweet spot" is about a foot / foot and a half high from where the drip starts off.

Playing around with several types of liquid is the best way to find several types of splashes.
You can add viscosity with glycerin for instance (yet to try it myself).
Soap in the water can be frustrating, because of the bubbles, I tried carpet cleaner, and it had interesting results, but the splashiness of the water went away, and without splashes... well, what's the point :)
Milk is great, but deluded in water even better.
Try out different things, but be careful with your equipment. Avoid corrosive substances.
Colored or tinted liquids are also great for experimentation, try using contrasting colors in the drip and the container liquid, you will get some very interesting umbrellas.

At level with the surface, bellow it, 45 degrees, try different positions, and remember to reset your focus "sweet spot".
A camera angle can take care of the fact that the rim of your container is too obvious, or it can help make the splash stand out better against a background.
It also helps take the monotony out from what could become very repetitive looking splashes (although, in all honesty, this kind of photography is always full of amazing and wonderful surprises).

No need to explain this, right? Water drops could become boring and repetitive. For instance, I'm going to try a drop on a hard surface now. I've seen some sweet looking crowns with that type of splash. How unique and special your shots are will be a direct result of how you experiment. Be creative, itís hard not to get exited with the things you find on your camera LCD sometimes.

Sooner or later, you will get on a roll, and like I blame the experts that helped me out, you can blame me later for your own addiction to this fun technique in photography. "My name is Oscar Blanco, and I'm a double splash junkie!" (hmmm, that sounds kinda nasty).

Add a Comment:
prettyflour Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
This has been featured in my journal!

racer1110 Featured By Owner Aug 18, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
nice tutorial
helped me a lot while experimenting :D
thank you :)
otas32 Featured By Owner Aug 18, 2011  Professional General Artist
Could you post here results please? It can motivate more people to try ;)
jonboy56 Featured By Owner May 29, 2011   Photographer
Good tutorial, I picked up a few good tips here following my first attempt at Water Art. Thank you.
otas32 Featured By Owner May 31, 2011  Professional General Artist
You're very welcome!
Would love to see the results ;)
jonboy56 Featured By Owner May 31, 2011   Photographer
Thanks, Will let you know when.
SaraJ3an Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2011   Photographer
I've used this in a news article I just submitted, You can check it out [link]!
otas32 Featured By Owner May 26, 2011  Professional General Artist
Somehow I missed your comment. Sorry for that and for featuring it :)
SaraJ3an Featured By Owner May 27, 2011   Photographer
no problems!
otas32 Featured By Owner May 26, 2011  Professional General Artist
Oh, I remember now :) The photo manipulation passed off as a photograph :) (the heart splash).
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