View Full Version : How to shoot flying / falling / splashing water

01-09-2011, 7:34pm
Hi all!

I want to shoot fast-moving water on a black background. Any tips?

For the black background, I can shoot at night off my balcony - there won't be anything showing up in the background. But that means I'll need artificial lights...

What would my minimum shutter speed be? Could I shoot at 1/250 or 1/200, so I can use studio lights, or would that be too slow? I don't think I can get enough light out of continuous lights to shoot much faster than that... and I'd really like to be able to step down to at least f/5.6 - f/8.

Any suggestions on the direction of light?

Thanks! :D

01-09-2011, 7:39pm
Oh, I forgot to mention that I wanted to get the water nice and sharp! ;)

02-09-2011, 12:20am
Could you provide a little more detail? Do you want to shoot the water while it's flowing, or focus on the splash.. or both? How much water..are you talking bucket loads?

For the black background, I can shoot at night off my balcony - there won't be anything showing up in the background.

Can you explain the setup? Will you be on the balcony looking down or will the water be falling from your balcony and you'll be below?

02-09-2011, 11:07am
Try your studio flashes at your camera's maximum sync speed. You won't get much ambient light, only flash. The actual burst of light from the flashes is very fast, fast enough to give a sharp image of moving objects. After you get you sharp shot, try slowing the shutter speed and using rear curtain sync to bring the movement back in slightly.

02-09-2011, 11:34am
Sory, I didn't explain myself very well!

Here are some examples of the sort of shots I'm after:





02-09-2011, 11:40am
The actual burst of light from the flashes is very fast, fast enough to give a sharp image of moving objects.

Oh, yeah I knew that but forgot about it... my previous attempts at shooting moving water never resulted in very sharp images, so I thought I was shooting too slow. I'll try dig some of my shots up...

02-09-2011, 12:06pm
Ok, here are some example shots of mine that I wasn't very impressed with:




02-09-2011, 12:16pm
Were those flash or continuous? Exif says flash did not fire.

02-09-2011, 12:20pm
All flash, but using a remote (trigger on the hotshoe) - I think that causes the EXIF data to say the flash didn't fire.

02-09-2011, 12:50pm
Doing some back-of-the envelope physics calculations, I think the streaks in the middle one are long enough to indicate that they are formed over a very large fraction, if not all, of the 1/200s. Are there modelling lights still on? Or more likely, the strobes are at full power. The power output is controlled by the duration of the flash burst, not its intensity. Bring them closer and reduce the power, the duration will shorten.

03-09-2011, 12:59pm
I agree, you'll need a short burst of light to freeze the action..similar to water drop photography, maybe start with 1/16 and reduce further if you have enough light.

05-09-2011, 5:53pm
Ok, I'll try shooting with the strobes on minimum power... although I suspect they were pretty close to minimum power, because that's how I usually use them. So... those example shots that I provided were probably shot with studio lights, right?

05-09-2011, 9:47pm
Not sure about those specific examples, but I have come across many high speed water photography images shot using speedlites.

08-09-2011, 3:21am
Set your camera to manual.

ISO 100
Shutter 3 seconds
Aperture about 4 (adjust to compensate)

Set your strobes to 1/1

Activate shutter
Pour water
Trigger flash

Done. :)

www.keefy.net is an example i did. I used 3 strobes tho, 2 at full power and 1 at 1/4 for the rear.

08-09-2011, 11:03am
Ok, thanks KeeFy! You make it sound so easy (and your photo looks great), but I still don't know what was wrong with my shoot.

08-09-2011, 1:34pm
Thanks! Took me quite a few shots to get it right.

It is easy! You just need to figure out what settings to use via trial and error.
If 3 seconds is too short to throw the water and all, try 5. As long as you don't catch any ambient light from your background you'll be fine.

Anyway in regards to what strictfunctor said about the TTL flash duration. It is true, so compensate accordingly as well. :) For me it worked well at full power.

09-09-2011, 12:15pm
Ok, I tried again. Here is the photo pretty much straight out of the camera:


And the edited version:


That was illuminated with two monoblocs and a speedlight. They were all on fairly low power.

Any thoughts? I think... it certainly looks a lot sharper after pp! I think it is an improvement over my previous ginger beer photos, but I think the water was moving a lot slower.

Does anyone have any tips on lighting, so that the water droplets have dark, clear outlines? Do I need more directional light, backlit?

09-09-2011, 3:26pm
Great shot!

Keep your place dark as the water will reflect/refract the surroundings. If it's dark it will give more contrast to your water droplets. Another option is putting 2 black cardboards at the sides, that will help as well.

10-09-2011, 8:18am
I'd be moving it away from the power point!

11-09-2011, 8:57pm
would look awesome with a darker background - well done