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.

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.

Two images

Two images posted for no other reason than to say I am still functioning. The schools’ Easter holidays have meant full time grandchild minding but Senior Management and myself are off for a few days at the end of next week with camera in tow! Both images taken this week, one when he was in bed the other … well you will see.

(C) Dave Whenham
Nikon D750, Sigma 105mm and SplashArt II
(C) Dave Whenham
Fuji x100t. Processed with Snapseed on IPad



© Dave WhenhamDo you get frustrated when domestic responsibilities mean that you can sometimes go weeks without getting out with your camera? I know I do and I often find myself fitting a macro lens and prowling the garden (well, it’s more like a back yard to be honest) after a few days without getting out with a camera.  The macro capabilities of my Nikon D750 and Sigma 105mm lens are one of the reasons why I’ve kept my DSLR kit.  I’ve had an on/off interest in macro photography from my earliest days with a camera but never settled down to a prolonged period of serious work on the subject. Over the last few years I’ve managed a few half-decent bugs and several reasonably decent flowers but nothing to write home about really.

I dusted the Sigma off again this week for some macro work with a difference – water splashes.  My last two blog posts were basically just a few snaps from experiments at the start of the week but the end of the week saw a new piece of kit, and it doesn’t have a lens or a sensor! Enter the Splash Art II kit purchased for the sole purpose of exploring the world of water drops. Besides providing some interesting images it will I hope provide me with a creative outlet when confined to barracks, give me something new to train the macro lens on, test my ingenuity and creativity in building sets and also hone my lighting skills. Not that I expect a lot from this kit!

So here are a couple of images from the first couple of days. I will write up my early experiences and post those in the next day or two as well.