Splash – it’s an Art

I’ve posted a few splashes recently and just before I put it all away so I could use the table for something else I decided to take a few pictures of the set-up for a future blog post.  It’s not my intention to write a tutorial, I’m still learning and watching/reading tutorials myself, but just to show what I use for those who might be interested.

See review at http://www.gavtrain.com/?p=1993
There’s an excellent review at http://www.gavtrain.com/?p=1993

The basic kit is not exactly cheap but then again given the amount of money photographers spend on owning the latest camera bodies and lenses it is not too extravagant a purchase to give your photography another outlet. I sometimes wonder how many photographic trips I might have embarked upon if I hadn’t bought and sold kit so often in the past.

I guess it should be said also that the kit has minimal uses apart from releasing drops of water so unless you feel you are going to get plenty of use then you may want to consider whether you want to incur the cost. I  had played with more Heath Robinson set ups previously so had a basic interest. I also enjoy playing with flashes and solving the myriad problems, creative and practical, that are involved when working indoors with small flashes.  Over time some of the solutions evolve and I purchase items specifically to address problems that have had somewhat cruder solutions. For example I ordered some white sticky-backed plastic today to line the large tray I use to catch stray water and in which the rest of my set-up sits. The black tray creates a lot of darker shadows in the water so I’ve been using a white towel under the water bath to mitigate against this. Having found a workable solution (white towel) to the problem (dark areas of water) I then came up with a more permanent solution. Problem solving is one of the aspects of this type of photography that keeps me interested.

© Dave Whenham
A white towel provides a solution to dark areas of water

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that plain water is not the easiest liquid to use but it is currently my preferred solution for two reasons; availability and also whilst I’m learning I think it helps to have some consistency. That’s not to say I am not going to try other liquids but for now this is one variable that I can keep consistent whilst I learn. I will certainly be playing with other liquids though, I did have a try with some milk when I first bought the kit but quickly decided to stick with water whilst I learnt the basics. But that is just me, others may find milk for example easier than water.

© Dave Whenham
One of my very first splashes – this one is milk

One thing not provided in the kit but without which this type of photography is extremely problematic is a flash unit or two. To create the burst of light required to freeze the motion of the drops requires that the set up is lit with a flash. Flash units can be bought fairly cheaply these days and of course unlike the SplashArt kit have plenty of uses apart from water art. I initially purchased a cheap, generic flash unit to use alongside the Nikon flash that I already owned. This was quickly complemented by a second cheap unit and in April 2017 when I bought the kit this was my set up. More recently I have taken to using the Nikon macro flash kit as the units are smaller and easier to use in a confined space. The bigger flashes offer more power but I’ve not yet found any downside to using the smaller units; they were not bought for this project however and the cheap, generic flash units did a great job too. It’s not what you’ve got it’s what you do with it could be the watchwords here.

© Dave Whenham
I keep the control unit away from the water bath but still readily to hand

Because the process can be fiddly, especially during the iterative process of getting the timings right for the release of the second drop and then then triggering the camera I like to keep everything to hand and often have a stool to sit on (old age comes with some perks). Care needs to be taken to ensure this stays dry though and it is fortunate that the cables supplied are a good length, arguably much longer than needed but this is a benefit.

The principles are very easy. One button controls the size of the first drop of water, another the delay between first and second drop and a third to control the size of the second drop. A fourth button, set below the others, controls the timings for releasing the shutter, the unit being attached to the camera’s cable release socket. The fifth, ridiculously tiny in my view, button has a dual function as it is used to toggle between one drop or two and is also used to trigger the unit. It is very easy to understand but can at times be very fiddly to get just right. The trick is only changing one variable at a time in my experience.  The process is however not for those with limited patience!

© Dave Whenham
A four flash set up using the three macro lights and my Nikon flash unit.
© Dave Whenham
It can be a fiddly process but seeing the splash on the screen makes it worthwhile

So, there you have it. A quick tour of my set up and a few thoughts on the process. Given time I will probably try to write more of a tutorial but for now this will have to suffice.


So, the first update on my first ever 365 Challenge. It is Day 19 as I write this and I’m very much enjoying the experience. The 63-2017 set me up nicely I think and meant that I hit the floor running to use a common platitude. It certainly helped me in terms of knowing what to expect and indeed as the last 82 days have progressed I have in many ways found it easier to incorporate the picture-a-day into my routine. I actually wake up thinking about it most days although I’m not sure if that is a good or a bad thing.

© Dave Whenham
Day 1. View from a Window

I had hoped to start the year with a lovely black and white landscape but as anyone who’s followed my 63-2017 Challenge will know I’ve been confined to the house since early December so that was never going to happen. Instead I awoke on January 1st determined to embrace the situation and so I deliberately included part of the structure of the house in the image to stress the feeling of being cooped up. I used a few images from this window in my 63-2017 but always being careful to exclude the window, its frame and indeed the house walls. So I produced a creative night image (I hope) but with a little “extra” that hints at my frustration at being kept indoors.

So, not the start I was hoping for and indeed it would be the middle of January before I had any form of free movement albeit restricted by advice to keep indoors and avoid the cold! Not easy when temperatures are in low single digits most of the day and we have snow, sleet, hail and rain on and off throughout the day.

© Dave Whenham
Day 3. Ted sums up how I feel

Ironically, the first week of January saw me out of the house and so there were a few pictures from Dean Clough. Through a series of unforseen events I was needed to drive the wife to work and was given strict instructions though not to leave the car apart from the purpose of returning to the house. No one said I couldn’t park sideways on the edge of the car park though and wind the window. Still, I wasn’t complaining.

© Dave Whenham
Day 5. Blue hour in mono

I’ve just realised that the three images I’ve selected so far have all been square formats. Not a deliberate design choice but I guess it is not a surprise given my interest in the square format. In fact, half of the first nineteen images have been presented at 1×1 which is a bit of a surprise even to me.

Day 5 was shot in the “blue hour” on a cold morning in Halifax pre-sunrise and bitterly cold. It required a 15-second exposure so it was lucky I had a tripod in the boot of the car. Images like these appeal greatly to me so its good to know that the 365 challenge is providing the impetus to capture them rather than taking the lazy option. I had originally envisaged this as a colour image, but in the end it was posted s a high contrast mono.

Day 6. Dean Clough

Dean Clough Mills in Halifax was the location for Day 6 as it has been for five of the first nineteen images in my 365 project.  Again it arose as a result of taking the wife to work and is another early morning picture.  Dean Clough Mills is a nationally renowned centre for business and the arts, located on a landmark site that was once the world’s largest carpet factory. Over the last 30 years Dean Clough’s imposing 19th C. buildings have been renovated to the highest standard and the half-mile long complex now accommodates over 150 businesses that employ some 4,000 people. My fascination with this location, and particularly the few square metres most of my recent Dean Clough images have been taken from, stems as I’ve said before from Bill Brandt’s 1937 image The Snicket.

© Dave Whenham
Day 7. Good Morning Sunday!

Sunday morning brought frost on the rooftops and a blazing morning sky the like of which we do not see that often here.  The end of the first week of 365-2018 and also the 70th consecutive picture of the day.

© Dave Whenham
Day 13. Ikea beckons

A pattern shot taken in the underground car park of the Ikea store at Birstall was my offering on Day 13. I initially shot this to take advantage of all the converging lines but then noted the poster promoting the health benefits of the company’s pasta. It seemed slightly incongrous to advertise the health benefits on a poster coverered in grime and situated amongst all these machines which we are told are runining the environment and our health. Irresistible to me of course.

© Dave Whenham
Day 17. Making the best of staying indoors

As I’ve noted already in the blog, I’ve had the water drop kit out over the last couple of days, and have indeed posted a few to Flickr, so it was inevitable that one would sneak into my 365 project.

© Dave Whenham
Day 19. The image that didn’t make the cut!

And so to the 19th, the last in this update and the only image here that is NOT one of my 365-2018 series. I shot this image just a few hours ago and fully intended to present it as a black & white to go with the black & white image I shot from virtually the same place for Day 18. In the end the dark blue sky momentarily swayed me and in that brief moment I posted it to Flickr. Had I delayed by even a few minutes then this version would have made the cut but by then I’d posted the colour version so that has to stand. At least I get to post the black & white version here.

So, that was a quick update on the first nineteen days and don’t forget the full set can be viewed on Flickr.

© Dave Whenham

Water, water everywhere

Outside the house it is raining heavily in-between hail, snow and sleet that is. Indoors I have a mug of black coffee and have dusted off the Splash Art kit. My chosen medium for these splashes is of course – water!

© Dave Whenham

I persist with using plain tap water even though many proponents of the art consider it the most difficult to work with. I like the clear shapes it produces and how I can manipulate the look of the image either through my choice of lighting or in post production. I have bought some thickening agent though and will experiment with using this in due course. For now I am happy learning how to use the kit and experimenting with my flash set up.

I bought a Nikon twin macro lighting kit a few years ago adding a third macro light over time. These three small flash heads are also ideal for what is essentially an indoor still-life set up. The commander unit enables me to control the power of each unit independently and will also fire a fourth flash if required. I use this fourth flash unit hand held, often with a coloured gel attached, to try to skim light across the top of the splash as in the example above. The hint of orange coming solely from a handheld flash held above the water.

I’m still at an early stage of my water drop experiments and very much still playing. The act of creating a splash can be time consuming and fiddly at times requiring lots of patience and trial and error. The four elements that I can control with this set up are the size of the first droplet, the delay before the second droplet is released, the size of the second droplet and the moment at which the camera is triggered. In addition I have total control of the lighting, camera position and backdrops etcetera.

© Dave Whenham
Electric Blue

As well as an artistic exercise this is very much a problem-solving exercise too, and I enjoy solving problems.  Solving a problem requires one to fully understand what is going on, to consider cause and effect and to consider the possible implications of changing any of the variables. I always change just one thing at a time as this helps understand cause and effect. I also try each new setting a few times just to allow for any built-in randomness in the results. Even things like lowering of the water level in the bath or reduction in the amount of water in the reservoir can over the length of a session have an impact on results.

The images here represent a “blue” period but I did experiment with yellow, orange, red and even a weird green/purple configuration.

© Dave Whenham

Not forgetting of course my diversion into Lego-World.

© Dave Whenham

More from the splash studio another time.


Finally, my health has turned a corner and I’m starting to become more active and even leaving the house for purposes other than medical appointments! My wife has diagnosed pneumonia but my doctor is more circumspect and I’m going for more X-Rays and blood tests shortly! Which makes it more frustrating that the weather is foul but at least I have been playing with water over the last few days – blog post to follow.

© Dave Whenham
View from my desk

However, in between the showers there have been some opportunities to get out locally albeit for short trips only.

© Dave Whenham
Rex Cinema, Elland

I’m working on a 365 project for 2018, update due soon, and the discipline is helping get through this period of enforced incarceration. The 63-2017 project helped too as I’ve blogged about several times previously. Todays 365 image was taken down at Dean Clough and is the fourth in the 365-2018 series to feature the end of Bowling Mill immortalised in 1937 by Bill Brandt.  My fascination with this location, and particularly the few square metres that these images have been taken from, stems as I’ve said before from Bill Brandt’s The Snicket. Today’s offering (below) is the same scene but from a POV that may not have been accessible to Brandt as I am stood where the railway line once ran.

© Dave Whenham
Dean Clough

© Dave Whenham

A medical appointment took me to Huddersfield town centre on Tuesday so of course the X100t went with me. I’m instinctively drawn to the streets behind the main shops which often have a griminess that is at total odds with the bright, chrome and neon adorned frontages. One of the images made it into my 365-2018 project and another is shown above. A gritty, harsh monochrome conversion gave the scene the feel to complement the look.

© Dave Whenham
Huddersfield – back of the shops

So, here’s to getting out and about again fully and of course to getting some light with which to work. I have ideas for audio-visual using Pictures to Exe, for a new video diary/blog and of course to play with some more time-lapse sequences. For the first time ever I feel I have the kit that I need, that works for me and most importantly the kit that I want. It’s the same gear as last year essentially, what changes is the mindset of course. To be honest, after the last seven weeks I’d be happy with an Instamatic so long as I was out of the house!



Llyn Padarn (aerial)

I used Flickr only sporadically during 2017 and indeed over the last few years, since the major changes to the free model, I have not used Flickr that much at all. Like many I migrated to Facebook and shared my images there as I could simultaneously share them with friends and fellow photographers alike. However, in mid-2017 I closed my Facebook account concerned at the amount of time I wasted every day on its pages. The time away from Facebook did me good and whilst I’ve since opened a new account I can go days, sometimes weeks, without uploading or checking; the constant need to check for updates has been overcome and I now enjoy my occasional visit.

When I was working on the 63-2017 I decided to use a Flickr album to keep the series together and I am doing the same for the 365-2018. As a result I’ve started to upload to Flickr again at https://www.flickr.com/photos/fatherpie/


The wider view

Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.

Thus said American photographer Garry Winogrand (1928-1984). I think it nicely encapsulates the feeling that may of us get when we get home and look at this images of that stunning landscape and find ourselves underwhelmed. The image on our computer screen simply does not match up to the memory of seeing the view on location.

© Dave Whenham
Three Shires Head (2009)

Three Shire Heads is the point on Axe Edge Moor where Cheshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire meet and I visited there in 2009 on a black and white photography workshop.

My memory of the day is vivid. I had a great time enjoying an unexpected one-to-one workshop with Dave Butcher in great weather with lovely light and a very stimulating series of locations. But when I look at the images from that day I am totally underwhelmed; they simply don’t have the impact I remember from the day. Winogrand is right I think because of the essentially single dimension of the recorded image. We are left with just sight but the senses of smell, touch, hearing and even the emotional response from the unique blend of the senses all contributed to the moment when we actually made the exposure.

A classic example is probably the grand vista. Stood atop a hill on a beautiful day we can find our breath taken away by the beauty of what we are seeing. Snap! But two days later we are often left looking at a rather bland scene on our computer screen with all the interest appearing as tiny details in the distance. To make it a successful image it needs something extra which comes from the use of light, the arrangements of elements in the frame, the chosen point of view. Or to put it another way the photographers skills and input.

© Dave Whenham
Isle of Skye

For me this knowledge is useful as I always try to ensure that there is something in the foreground to provide depth to the image. In the image above what took my eye was the distant, snow-tipped mountains which stretched across the horizon in a grand wide vista. So, I stood and admired the wider scene but then chose a focal length to create a tighter composition and a point of view to arrange the elements such that they lead the eye through the image and create depth.