How’d He Do Dat?

Coke Adds Life!

One of the challenges in doing this type of “splash” photograph comes when you want not just the water to be crisp and in focus, but you also want the product to be sharp too. Leaving it to random chance that the product will fall straight with the logo oriented toward the camera could mean hundreds of takes before you get it right. This shot (including set up, tear down & post production) was executed in under one hour.

To overcome those challenges, this shot was taken upside down. The can is not falling into the water & ice – but rather, the water & ice are being dumped over the can.

To begin, I epoxied a bit of metal to the underside of the can. Since the epoxy needed time to set, this had to be step 1. The epoxy claimed to need a full hour to cure, but I tempted fate and after 15 minutes I suspended it from a rod supported by two light stands, using an “A” clamp attached to my new metal handle.

Each light stand also had a flash mounted on it (in a 1-gallon zip-loc bag). The camera-left flash (right once you turn the shot upside right) was set to 1/32 power and aimed directly at the can from 90°. The camera-right flash was oriented slightly in front of the can and angled back.

We have been conditioned so see light as naturally coming from above. However, since the shot was taken upside down, that meant that a light source would need to be added beneath the can. I spread a white bath towel on the counter top (dual purpose … it was also highly absorbent!). A third flash was angled into the towel at 45° to provide fill light for the top of the can. That flash was also set to its lowest (i.e. fastest) power setting.

This type of photograph requires small “speedlights”, not the big expensive studio lights. My White Lightnings pop off a burst of light that lasts (at their quickest) 1/6,000 of a second. However, my small, cheap LumoPro 120s (which cost about $130 apiece) can pop off at 1/30,000 of a second at their lowest power setting.

I then set the camera on timer and proceeded to dump bowls of ice & water onto the can until I was sure I had a few good captures. Having already got my lighting nailed down before the water & ice dumps began, I only needed to dump a half dozen bowls of ice water before I had what I was looking for.

The first dumps all fell too straight – it didn’t have that “splashy” feel to it. So I grabbed a roll of duct tape and fashioned a couple of flaps on the rod on either side of the A clamp. These flaps caused the water & ice to spread out a bit more, resulting in a much more organic feel to the liquid’s motion.

Originally, I had set the scene up and got the camera dialed in at f/5.6 at ISO 100. However, knowing that the “sweet spot” on my Canon 28-105 lens is at f/8 when the lens is racked out the its full extension, I cranked my ISO up one stop, and my aperture down one stop.

When comparing the f/5.6 test shots (w/o water) to the f/8 test shot (w/o water), the f/8 shots were much crisper and the additional depth of field helps hold sharpness in the water as it splashes out in all directions. Any increase in sensor noise due to going to ISO 200 was more than compensated for. Also, shooting in the “sweet spot” greatly reduced chromatic aberration around the brightest highlights on the water droplets. Commonly when shooting these water splash images, some time is required in Adobe Camera Raw in order to deal with the aberration around the brightest highlights. In this case, no aberration was present, so I saved myself a few minutes in post.

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