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Catch a High Speed Splash without a Flash

To photograph moving water or water drops is a challenge that can’t be ignored if you are really deep into taking pictures. You always wondered how others can shoot such great photos. Can you do it? My answer is definitely YES!

In this tutorial I’m going to show how to shoot a really impressive images of a splashing water without having expensive equipment, such as an external flash or a photo studio. I’ve gathered few easy steps to follow including all the settings, tricks and equipment you need for a guaranteed success.


Every professional photographer has lot of expensive equipment but if being an amateur like me probably can’t afford it. This fact shouldn’t be a reason to give up your ideas for a great photo. This is a list of all things that needed for shooting a high-speed water splash in your kitchen:

  • Digital camera with manual exposure control and RAW shooting
  • A tripod
  • A piece of rice paper (it can be also used ordinary white paper)
  • A source of light (even reading lamp works for you)
  • Some kind of clips
  • A kitchen chair
  • Your favorite glass – I prefer to use a wine glass
  • And of course – water.

All additional staff needed isn’t more than 50$ which is less than the price of one simple external flash for a digital camera. Now the questions are how to position the camera, the light and what this chair is for?

Needed equipment for shooting splashing water without an external flash.
Needed equipment for shooting


To set up the scene is an easy job. The picture below shows the position of the camera and the source of light. The piece of paper should hang right before the light. The closer it is, the stronger the light for the exposure will be. It’s essential for the high-speed shooting to have really strong light.(I’ve been shooting with two reading lamps but for this tutorial I used one garden lamp). This will give the opportunity to use larger values of f-stop which guarantee you more details in focus in the shot.

Another important thing is that glass needs to stay sloped at around a 45 degree angle. I tried different angles and decided that this angle gives the most beautiful splash of the water in and out of the glass. Here it can be seen my primitive hand-made method to achieve it and to attach the glass to my kitchen chair (turn thus giving a 45 degree angle). If decided the glass can be positioned in different ways to see how water splashes most sophisticatedly.

Setting of the equipment for shooting splashing water at home without an external flash.
Setting for the shoot.

Camera Settings

And when everything is ready for shooting it comes the time to take care of camera’s settings. They are the key to success in shooting a splash of water without an external flash. First you should turn the camera into “M” – manual mode, almost every digital camera have it. You need a clear final image, so keep ISO low – around 200-400 max because you don’t want your images look grainy at the end.

The low ISO stops a lot of essential light for your shot, so you can compensate this with the aperture or the shutter speed. I want to freeze a motion, that’s why I keep my camera at high shutter speed. That means it works with values of 1/640 – 1/1000sec. Such shutter speed needs large aperture (f.2.8 and more) but I want to keep in focus as much of the splash as I can. That’s why I set f-stop to f.7.3 and if my shot look underexposed I change ISO to higher level (but still keep the value to 400) or I can set up my shutter speed slower (down to 1/640s – under this value water will be blurry).

What’s important here is to keep the balance in the triangle of the values of shutter speed – aperture – ISO

Ready. Steady. Action.

Shot of splashing water into a wine glass without an external flash.
Final shot of splashing water.

Once you set up cameras’ settings properly you are ready to begin shooting. All you need is a little patience, a lot of tries and a good synchronization between your two hands. There are some little tricks that I use for this kind of shooting:

  • My camera is set up to continue shooting and I always try to make as much as I can shots while I am pouring the water in the glass. The more you shoot, the bigger is the chance to catch the exact splash. So shoot, shoot, shoot !
  • Always start pouring the water a half of the second before you push the shutter button. This ensures you that you will catch the splash from the very first drop and you will not miss anything. You can try with a self-timer if you don’t feel convenient with your concentration or synchronization between the left and right hands. Because if you haven’t noticed yet you do two things at once – pouring water with the one and pressing the shutter button with the other one. After few times doing it you will get used to I assure you.
  • A little trick of mine about the shots is that I usually color water for more interesting effect. You can use Easter paint of any color you want, but you should be careful how saturated is water, because if it is too dark the light won’t pass though it and the shot will fail. This again is a matter of experience, so you should try some times.
  • Always shoot in RAW ! I won’t write about pros and cons because there are lot of articles about this. Briefly it will be easier in post-processing.
  • Something that I missed to mention but it’s vital is that there should be a bowl under the glass of water to not spill it all over the floor.
  • Last but not least is to remember to clean the glass after every shot, of drops. It’s important to do this because after seeing your final images on your computer you will see a many surplus water drops which you don’t want to be there.

Post-processing images

Once finished with shooting you want to see the final result on your computer. Photoshop is a great option to correct little minor deficiencies. I prefer to fix just little because I think that the pictures themselves are great and do not require complex adjustments. After all pictures are yours and you can feel free to fix them as much as you like. I always use three tools in Photoshop:

  • Levels – carefully adjust the histogram if needed – black/white point (beware of image posterization – lost gradient where it is in large areas of the image)
  • Dodge tool – to make lighten some parts of water and to make it more eye-catching
  • Burn tool – I use it on the background where I want to darken it to make stand out the splash.

If wanted, you can also adjust saturation, hue or try with black and white – Desaturate Adjustment. It’s all about your idea of the image and how it impresses most. Feel free to experiment with post-processing. Nevertheless, my advice is to not overdo.

Final results

After several hours spent on taking pictures may finally see the end result and I think you will really like photographing difficult scenes hereinafter, especially with a small budget like this. Let’s take stock of money spent:

  • Easter paint for eggs – 0.50$
  • Clips – 3-4$
  • Garden/reading lamp – 20$
  • White sheet of paper (rice paper) – 0.70$
  • A lot of patience and imagination – priceless
Blue water splash in a wine glass, final image
Blue ocean splash in a wine glass
Red colored water splash in a wine glass.
Wine splash in a glass.

All of the equipment will cost you under 50$. I think it’s a good deal with a great final result. Now take the challenge and start shooting!

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