So you want to make a mess and just splash about a bit?

I will show you how I do it. I’m sure that there are different methods you can follow but the way as I describe the process on this page, works fine for me. I want to warn you beforehand; it is going to make a mess so make sure that you protect your camera, flashes and Pluto from liquid flying around by covering them in a transparent plastic freezer bag.

Making shots of liquid splashing all over the place requires some preparation. I have a small inflatable swimming pool of 1.2 meters in diameter on the tabel in my studio. This is to catch the liquid and stopping it from ending up on the floor. Well, most of it,...
Anyway, prepare to clean up regularly. You have been warned,...

First, what do you need to get a good splash?

  • A small table with a hinged top

  • A mirror

  • Some adhesive velcro tape

  • A sheet of milky plexiglass (Perspex) as background

  • Double sided adhesive tape

  • Pluto Trigger (or another trigger with an external microphone)

  • Some glasses in different shapes

  • Plastic bags to protect the speedlights and Pluto against splashing liquid

  • Kitchen paper and water to clean up

22 milliseconds delay

The table

I started with building a small table with two table tops. The first is fixed to the legs. The second table top is mounted to the first with a piano hinge. So you can lift this table top to 90 degrees vertical and drop it. I've put two rubber caps on the bottom of the flipping table top.

Stick some strips of the adhesive velcro tape on the back of the mirror and on the table top. Now you can stick the mirror to the table top and lift it angled, with the mirror on it. Take a wine glass and stick some double sided tape to the foot and stick it on the mirror. Take the table and put it in the middle of the swimming pool.

I use three off-camera speedlights that are controlled by Pluto. Two of them are pointed at the horizotal table top from left and right. The third one is used to light the background. For me it worked best with the speedlight positioned between the table and the sheet of milky plexiglass, pointing upwards. I also tried to light it from the back but I then got a bright spot on the background. Positioning the speedlight differently can avoid this. As a background I usually use a sheet of milky plexiglass (Perspex) This is easy to clean.

I usually have the camera on f-16 or f-18, ISO 400 to 600 and the shutter speed set on 0,8 second. I have my speedlights set on 1/64. You will have to do some experiments with this to see what gets you the best result.

Pluto Trigger

On the right, Pluto and my phone with the Pluto app. It controls the camera and the speedlights. With Pluto in sound mode, it triggers the speedlights when it 'hears' a sound. In this case the sound of the falling table top.

Fill the glass with water that has some food colouring in it. You can choose any colour you want. Position the camera on a tripod. For these shots I usualy have the kit lens FE 28-70mm F3.5-5.6 OSS on my A7II. Set the camera on manual focus and focus on the glass.

Now do a final check;

Turn of the lights and make sure it is realy dark in the room. Activate Pluto in sound mode. Click you fingers twice to see if the speedlights flashed. The first click of my fingers should open the shutter; the second makes the speedlights fire. Are the speedlights working? It is frustrating when they don’t. You will have to clean up when you didn’t even get a single shot.

Now we'll go and make a mess!

Activate Pluto in sound mode. Start with a delay of 20 to 25 milliseconds.
Turn off the lights in the room. Lift the table top to about 40 to 50 degrees. This depends on the the type of glass and what sort of splash you want to create. Click you fingers with one hand to open the shutter and drop the table top. The noise will trigger Pluto to make the speedlights flash.
Check the results. Clean the mirror and background and start all over again. You will also have to replace the double sided tape on the bottom of the glass because it got wet.

Check out this short video.

To achieve different results you can adjust the flash delay on Pluto, put more or less liquid in the glass or lift the tabel top to a different angle. Using a different shaped glass will results in a different splash. I usually use water with food colouring in it. You can also use milk or coffee.

A tilt shot

To get a shot like this one, set the camera on the tripod in a tilt angle of 60 to 90 degrees. This depends on what sort of drips you want. Lift the table top by hand and make 10 to 15 shots on high-speed burst of the liquid running out of the glasses. This is done without Pluto. I used the Godox X1 transmitter to control the speedlights. Shutterspeed usually is 1/250 to 1/320 depending on the light.

On the above photos, I did not have the plastic bags on the speed lights and Pluto. Don’t forget to put them on!
You can clean up your shots and adjust colours etc. in Photoshop or Lightroom.
Please, after each shot, check that no liquid landed on your lens, camera or other equipment. Clean it right away. It is not worth it to ruin your equipment to get a shot!


Wim van Bezouw
Stormstraat 3
5121 TJ Rijen
The Netherlands