Friday, February 25, 2011

Strawberry Splash - High Speed Photography with simple gear

f/8, ISO 100, shutter speed: 2 seconds (click the picture to see it larger)

I recently came across some of Pascal Bovet's images on Flickr and found that he'd linked a lot of his stuff to his website with many of his behind the scenes tricks - and of course I had to try this one out!

Initially I set everything up as he described with one light on my background and one light for the scene pointing down from above (see setup image below).

The basic idea is that you typically hit a ceiling with your flash sync speed somewhere around 1/250 sec. which is fast enough to capture many things, but...not fast enough to capture others.

One way of getting around this is to leave your shutter open longer in a dark environment and trigger your lights manually. A flash burst from your speedlight is a lot faster than 1/250 sec. Using my Nikon SB-24 to light the glass and the strawberry, for example, at 1/16th power gives me a flash duration of around 1/11000th of a second!

In an earlier post on water drop photography, I mentioned the same thing - only I discovered that little tip on super fast flash durations after I'd already tried everything out. If you're at all unclear as to how this works, Pascal has some useful diagrams or check out this video from Paul Duncan.
Very first try and missed completely!


First you're going to have to do some test shots. The idea is that you want to be in a very low-light environment - you still have to see, but the darker the better. From my kitchen, it was fine to leave the bathroom light on just in the hallway. This should give you an entirely zero-black test shot without popping your lights (or very close). This will take a little bit of balancing though because you're also going to have to adjust your lights/camera to make sure that you're getting a decent exposure when you fire your lights. Pascal suggests a shutter speed of 4 seconds, although I found 2 to be plenty - but I also had Cristy working the remote shutter release. As soon as I heard the shutter, I was able to drop the strawberry with one hand and fire the flashes with the other.

Depending on how far away your camera is, you might want to set your aperture to at least at f/8 to make sure everything is in focus, although I found that even slightly shallow from several feet away. You're probably safe to set your ISO to 100 and leave it there. Put the fruit in the glass and autofocus - then switch to manual focus and leave it there.
Brighter background light to try &
wash out the colour of my painted wall.
It wound up also overexposing my glass & the
water. This needed a bit of work in post with
curves & levels to get some of that
detail back and still you can see
the colour of our walls

You can see from the pictures that the strawberry is relatively large in relation to the opening of the glass. I recommend you use your second or even third-best strawberry to start with. I had a little trouble with my aim at the beginning and made a big mess of my best and reddest one....

What didn't go so well....

I followed Pascal's lighting setup, but somehow couldn't get things to look quite right. I got the background (my kitchen wall) to go completely white as it's normally an off-white/cream colour. The problem was that the glass full of water almost has a fish-eye effect and you can see a lot of the room in it - pictures on the wall/awful off-white paint on the wall. I thought the water splashing around might solve that problem, didn't entirely....

I also tried a higher output setting on my background light, but was eventually blowing out the glass and the smaller water droplets.

Then I decided to try a few without the background light and go for an underexposed black background, but found that there were other reflections to deal with, although with a little practice, that can definitely be made to work (see more on photographing glassware and other reflective surfaces from Scott Eccleston at Weekly Photo Tips).

Final solution

What worked best for me was to simply go with a single light from above (see setup image below) and create a smaller, more easily controlled environment using a few canvasses still in plastic and some foam core.

Obviously you'll have to take several shots as water is, of course, a little unpredictable. One thing to think about is that there's nothing stopping you from combining images later - let's say the strawberry is perfectly in place in one frame, but the splash is unspectacular. Not to worry - you'll likely get another frame with a great splash and an out-of-place strawberry. No problem - put 'em together:
        good strawberry position                       good splash                                                composite of the two

Despite a few initial problems, the keeper rate was actually quite high once we got the hang of it. Try it for yourself, post your pictures and send me the link!

Oops! Have I missed something?! Help share resources by adding them with a short description in the comments section or write me and I'll make sure it gets posted!


Unknown said...

Great blog!

BECKY said...

great tutorial! I have been wanting to try this out-- all I need now is a rainy day!!

Post a Comment