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How To Shoot Splash Photography Using Just One Speedlight

If you’ve ever wanted to recreate amazing splash photography shots with drinks, then this post will help you.

In this example we will use an ice cube dropping into water but you can use anything e.g. fruit dropped into a cocktail.

Splash Photography
Photo by Thao Le Hoang on Unsplash

This is what you’ll need:

  • 1 speedlight that you can wirelessly trigger
  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • Diffusion material
  • Remote Shutter Release
  • Glass with water
  • 1 fake ice cube

How To Set Up For Splash Photography

First things first, have a speedlight setup on a stand with a wireless transceiver and a corresponding transceiver on your camera. This way your camera can wirelessly trigger the flash when you shoot. If you are using Yongnuo speedlights then the videos below will help. 

You want to place your speedlight flash on a stand with a diffuser in front of it. What you use for diffusion is up to you. Just use what you have.

Just remember if the light looks a bit harsh then you probably want an extra layer of diffusion or you can try moving the speedlight further away from the subject and the diffusion material.

This will serve as the backdrop as well as the source for where the light is coming from. 

Now that you have your backdrop, place your glass in front of it on a platform.

Then place your camera in the same line of sight in front of the subject and the backdrop so everything is in a straight line. Adjust your distance depending on the lens you are using and the composition you want. 

Make sure that your camera is on a  tripod or a stable surface. 

Remember you want enough space in your composition to capture the splashes of water. 

What Settings Should I Use For Splash Photography?

When using speedlights for splash photography, one of the most important parameters is actually the speed of the flash and not the shutter speed.

You would think it is the shutter speed that is what freezes the motion, but the flash is more important here.

The main thing with your settings is to set your f-stop and shutter speed to settings where you cut out any ambient light – so the image is black if you shot without the flash.

What Aperture Should I Use?

When it comes to aperture if you want the whole splash to be in focus then you don’t want to shoot wide open, so try something like f11 and adjust accordingly. 

If you shoot at something like f2.8, your exposure would most likely start to bring in ambient light and your depth of field may be too small so some of your splash may be out of focus.

Your main objective here is to make sure enough is in focus, but also that you cut out ambient light.

What Shutter Speed Should I Use?

For your shutter speed, you simply want to set it to something just fast enough that you cut out any ambient light.

This is so that the flash is the only light that is being used in the picture so you have full control. The shutter speed corresponding to a dark exposure will depend on the aperture settings you use.

Try to start with about 1/200th. 

If your shutter speed becomes too slow then you will introduce ambient light.

How Strong Should My Flash Be?

As mentioned above, the flash will be what freezes the motion of the splash and not the shutter speed. 

Because of this, you need a fast flash duration and this is why you should use a low power setting on the speedlight as this makes the flash fire for a shorter duration. 

The way this works is that whatever is lit up during the flash duration, this is what the camera will capture since it is the only thing visible since you cut out any ambient light with your F-stop and shutter speed.

Try with the lowest power settings to start, but if it seems that it is not bright enough then turn it up a notch. 

If you see that you are not able to freeze the motion of the splash enough at the right exposure, then try lowering your f-stop slightly or increasing the ISO slightly. 

ISO Settings 

ISO is the last thing to consider for your settings. After considering the above, you can see that you should not really be using your shutter speed much to affect the exposure.

Photo by ShareGrid on Unsplash

If anything, if you see that the exposure is too dark when the flash triggers, then lowering your shutter speed will only cause more ambient light to show up – you don’t want this. 

Remember you want the flash to control the exposure as much as possible.

As a rule of thumb, you want to keep your ISO as low as you can without introducing TOO much noise that the picture is incredibly noisy. 

Settings Summary:

  1. Set your focus plane using aperture. Try starting off with f11.
  2. Set your shutter speed so that it is just fast enough that there is no ambient light in the exposure.Try starting with 1/200th.
  3. Set up your flash with the lowest power setting for a quick flash duration. 
  4. Set your ISO to the lowest you can without the image being too dark.

How To Set The Focus In Splash Photography? 

Luckily you would have already used a high enough f-stop that should keep everything in focus, but you still want to be precise.

If you are shooting alone you may struggle to set focus so what you can do is get a small pen or toothpick and place it in the glass. Or just place the ice cube that you will be using later for the splash. 

Use manual focus on your camera and set the focus to this object in the glass. Leave it on manual focus so that the focus does not change and just make sure your depth of field is large enough that you can see the glass in detail as well as any splash that might occur. 

You will be controlling the depth of field with the f stop. Remember the higher the f stop number the larger the depth of field and the lower the f stop number the smaller the depth of field. 

How To Capture The Splash?

Now that you are all set up all you need to do is drop your ice cube in the glass and trigger the camera at the right time to take the picture. 

There are 2 ways to do this :

One way to do it is to use a remote shutter release and you press the trigger yourself as the ice cube drops into the water.

This may take a few tries and requires good timing but if you are on your own it is probably the cheapest way to do it. 

Watch the video below to give you an idea of how you can do this yourself. This video shows how you would go about doing it with a standard remote shutter release.

This video also shows how to use a 2 speedlight set up, so if you happen to have 2 speedlights then you can copy their set up too.

The other option is to use a more expensive sound or laser triggered shutter release.

With sound or laser triggers, the shutter will automatically trigger based on movement or sound. This is more automated, but these triggers can be much more expensive to buy. 

Just use what you have and keep trying till you get the perfect splash. 

The video below uses a smarter Miops trigger programmed with sound and also uses a one speedlight setup.


We hope you found this useful! If you want other quick tips for drinks photography you might like :