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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Splash Photography the Easy Way by Stu Gallagher | Maris Ehlers Photography

I am super pleased to bring you this macro tutorial for splash / pouring photography by Stu Gallagher, I invited him to share it here.  Stu and I have been connected for a couple of years now via facebook.  I have enjoyed his landscape photography a lot, and it's been fun watching him create his own photographic style.  Plus, I really like to give him a hard time.  

From Stu: 

I'm always on the lookout for simple tutorials, so when I saw one on splash/pouring photography using only two spot lights (no flash), I jumped at the chance of trying it. In the end it worked well but I wanted to make it easier. No booms and stands, just a kitchen table, a flash and a white wall. This one is super basic.

What you'll need:

  • tripod (this is a one person project), 
  • camera (duh), 
  • a flash trigger and receiver ($28 at, 
  • a speedlight flash
  • food coloring 
  • water

Take a peek at the set-up image above to get a feel for what I'm talking about. There are three important things to follow with this set up to get the results that I did.  I've listed them below. 

  1. Take the time to put the camera on a tripod in the desired position and do not move it.
  2. Once you are set up, you'll need to hold a pen inside the glass (about middle) and focus on the tip (see image below for reference). Once you've done this you will need to switch to manual focus lock. On my Nikon it's on the front left next to the lens. Now you have focus lock, which means your camera won't try to focus on the liquid while you're pouring. That results in blurry images.
  3. Set your flash to manual and it's lowest setting. My old SB-24 goes down to 1/16th power. Now you can take a burst of images without the flash regenerating. I can get a good 8 shot burst at this setting.

Let's Make Magic Martinis Together.
So now you are ready to test your set up. Your camera is set to manual and your focus is now locked on the martini glass. You've attached your trigger to the camera and receiver to the flash unit. Here are your next steps:

  1. Pour some of your colored liquid into the glass and run some test shots. With the flash you will be in sync mode (regarding speed), mine is 1/180, some are 1/200. Set your ISO to 200.
  2. Take a few shots starting out at around F9 then progressing toward F13. My sweet spot was F13. You're trying to blow out the background and isolate the martini glass with enough light that it penetrates the liquid. Looking at the set-up pic you'll see my flash is on a little stand. Feel free to prop yours on something if you don't have the stand. Mine is about 12-15" from the wall (facing the wall, not the glass). Once you have your settings set, you can empty and clean the glass.
Finally, you're ready to shoot. If you are working alone, this can get a bit tricky. My tripod/camera is set-up about 3' from the glass. Here's where the ability to multitask comes in handy.  Here's your last list of the day:

  1. Put one finger on the shutter release, ready to hold it down for a burst of images. 
  2. Use your other hand to hold the mixing glass above the martini glass. 
  3. Push the shutter release button (and hold it down) just as the liquid leaves the mixing glass. That's it! 
You won't need to do anything in post production. These images here only have slight level changes and sharpening.  

I hope you've enjoyed this macro tutotrial and will give it a try.  If you have any quesitions or comments, please either post here on Maris' blog or email me at

Stu Gallagher is the  owner of Stu Gallager Photography in Syracuse, NY.  He can be reached in the following ways; 


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