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Using Splash Photography To Produce Something Special | How I Shot It

By Max Bridge on May 27th 2016

Adding other elements to elevate your photography beyond the norm is something I have been harping on about recently, and splash photography is one of these elements that I plan on adding more and more into my work. However, other elements don’t always have to be complex, and I am not only talking about product photography. The quickest way to get stuck in a creative rut is to constantly repeat the same old thing. Pushing yourself miles out of your comfort zone is a good way to fuel your creativity and drive your development, even if you fail. Herein I’m going to explain the steps I took to achieve this shot. With practice, I firmly believe this is something which anyone could do.

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Photo by Alex Koloskov

Splash Photography | Creating The Splashes

I have been waiting for what seems to be decades for the new range of Godox strobes to be released. Currently, I don’t have strobes with a fast enough flash duration to freeze the fast movement of splashes. I also live in the UK where Paul C Buff Einstein’s are not available. Therefore, to get the strobes I need would cost an arm and a leg. Yes, I could use my speedlights but I know the lack of power will be a large hindrance. As such, I’ve been a little stuck; I cannot afford Broncolor or Profoto power packs (either brand are welcome to send me some if they’re reading) and I can’t get Einstein’s. The new Godox lights however, at least on paper, seem to tick all the boxes and would, I assume, be far far cheaper.

[REWIND: USE SPLASH PHOTOGRAPHY TO CREATE STUNNING IMAGES | PHOTIGY COURSE REVIEW]

Why am I telling you this? Because the splashes I used for this shot were taken from the Photigy Splash pack. I did not create them myself. I briefly grappled with the thought of using stock splashes to create images which I plan to place in my portfolio, but decided that, so long as I am confident I can create them myself (when the time comes), then it’s fine. I think that way of thinking should be applied to the use of many stock images we are able to purchase these days. I have the knowledge and skill, gained from watching the Photigy Advanced Splash Course, I just lack the necessary kit. If you are interested in that course, or the splash pack, you can find them both by visiting the Photigy store, click here.

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Lighting Set Up | How I Shot The Bottle

The lighting set up for this shot was pretty simple. However, as I often find when working with small objects, it can take some tweaking before you get it right. I used two Bowens 500 Pro’s  and a Yongnuo 560 III. The two Bowens lights were placed in 2ft Stripboxes and had scrims at an angle in front of them. By placing the scrims at an angle one can create a gradient of light across the scrim, that is then reflected onto the surface of your object. Different angles will create different gradients.

The two scrims I used consisted of one Westcott Fast Flag (my favourite) and one cheap 5-in-1 reflector with the cover taken off. The Yonguo flash had a reflector and 10 degree grid modifying the light. The purpose of this light was to add the glow you can see at the bottom right of the bottle (highlighting the liquid) and to slightly illuminate the label. Finally, a trusty piece of black foam board was used, in conjunction with A Clamp, to add the black line you can see in the middle of the shiny cap.

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To hold the bottle in place, I used a cheap hot glue gun to attach it to a metal rod. That metal rod was held in place by a grip head and light stand. Hot glue is fantastic for product photography and can be easily removed using isopropyl alcohol.

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My Editing Workflow | Cleaning And Adjusting The Bottle

Whether it be splash photography or any other simple product shot, my workflow is very similar. By keeping it so, I am able to have consistent results that refine as time goes on, and my workflow is constantly evolving. For a thorough breakdown take a look at this article.

One of the early stages is always cleaning. I clean until all the elements look perfect. As you’ll notice from the raw shot toward the bottom of the article, the bottle appeared to be fairly clean. However, if you look closely you’ll see there are quite a few imperfections which had to be corrected. While this stage is mind numbingly boring, it’s importance cannot be ignored.

A recent alteration to my workflow has been to flatten my cleaning layers. I used to keep them in tact in case I’d need to adjust things at a later stage but I’ve come to realize that I never go back and adjust those layers. Also, when working on large files like this one (5.8 GB is size) takes a huge amount of computing power. Flattening becomes essential.

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[REWIND: DO YOU HAVE AN EFFECTIVE POST-PRODUCTION WORKFLOW?]

Frequency Separation is a favorite method of cleaning. By separating the detail from the luminosity, it becomes very easy to edit gradients without spoiling their appearance. However, you will not see any of those layers above as the whole cleaning process, aside from a couple of layers I decided to keep intact, has been flattened.

The creative part of my edits, the parts I enjoy, come when I begin my contrast adjustments. Using the Pen Tool, Color Range and other selection methods, you can precisely target areas of your image, and spending a long time here can transform your image and provide an enormous amount of control.

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In the final stage, I over-saturate the colors and see if any unwanted color casts have appeared. When we stare at our images for long periods, color casts can become hard to see, so by exaggerating the colors, you’d have to be blind not to notice.

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Splash Photography | Editing The Splashes

This was my first time using transparent splashes from the Photigy splash pack, and it required a different approach to images I have done in the past. The final image was comprised of 9 (I think) separate splashes which were combined to form the swirling splash which engulfs the bottle. Briefly, to remove the RAW splashes (see image above) from their backgrounds I:

  1. Inverted the layer if the splash was shot on white
  2. Created luminosity masks using Raya Pro. This can of course be done manually as well.
  3. Used luminosity masks to select the splash and, mostly, ignore the background.
  4. I then used Select > Color Range or Focus Area Select to completely remove the background.

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The hard part came when trying to add the splash photography together in Photoshop. Each splash was manipulated and warped using the Warp Tool and Puppet Warp. They also had their own masks, an example can be seen above, which made the splashes appear to be going in and out of one another, and to be coming over the bottle itself. Without these masks I found the splashes looked quite flat. I also experimented with a few blend modes and found that Screen worked the best.

[REWIND: PUPPET WARP | THE REALLY COOL TOOL YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT]

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Unifying All The Elements | The Hard Bit

The process thus far has not been too hard; Laborious yes, but not too difficult. Unifying the splash photography and bottle proved to be the most challenging. To do so, I created shadows where appropriate, following the light already present, and added some color bounce back. I rarely need to create shadows so this was a learning experience. I found that keeping both objects in mind (and the direction of light of course) seemed to yield the best results. You need to remember that the luminosity transfer of a shadow will go both ways – It will darken the bottle and the splash, and the same can be said for color; The bottle will get a little bit of color from the splash and vice versa.

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What I don’t Like And What I Would Do Differently

After a mammoth amount of work and a good deal of pushing my own boundaries, I went from the image you see above, to the final output below. Even though I am pleased with the result, I always critique my own work. I also tend to be far harsher than anyone else. With this image my criticisms were:

  1. The top of the bottle does not feel connected enough. I was unable to find a splash that worked in this area.
  2. My shadows need work. This is an area I must learn more.
  3. I would have liked the inner part of the bottle to have more of a glow. Perhaps next time I should remove the thick liquid and replace it with something thinner?

In my opinion, it is vital that we critique our own work and identify our weaknesses. By doing so, we will only improve the next time around.

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Photo by Max Bridge Portrait Photographer – Nikon D750Sigma 150mm f2.8 OS, f11, ISO 50, 1/200

Summary

With practice, anyone can do this. I’m not saying it’s easy, it’s not. But nothing is out of reach to any of us if we put in enough work to get there. By all means, idolize the work of other photographers, but at the same time try to keep in mind that if you put in the work and dedication to acquire the skills, you can do it too.

I started out years ago, when SLR Lounge was still a baby, watching every video Pye produced trying to learn Lightroom. I never would have imagined that years later I would be creating images like this. Anyone can do it if you put in the time. Make sure you look at all the education on offer in the SLR Lounge Store to start off your journey, click here. If you’re interested in Splash photography in general, check out my review of the Photigy Advanced Splash course, click here, or head over to their site and see what else is on offer, click here.

Push your boundaries. If you don’t, you’ll never know what you can achieve.

About

Max began his career within the film industry. He’s worked on everything from a banned horror film to multi-million-pound commercials crewed by top industry professionals. After suffering a back injury, Max left the film industry and is now using his knowledge to pursue a career within photography.

Website: SquareMountain 
Instagram: Follow Author

12 Comments

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  1. Alan Hynes

    Hi Max. It’s a great and eye-catching shot! Loved the article and your honesty in your personal critique. I am also looking at trying to get into product photography in South Africa. Have you done any articles on how to approach clients in this niche industry?

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    • Max Bridge

      Thanks for the comment Alan. I’m afraid I’ve not done any articles like that. My advice would be to first create an amazing portfolio which sets you out from the crowd. If you can do that then hopefully your work will speak for itself. Sorry I can’t be of more help

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  2. Yan Berghof

    Max, thank u for the great lesson!
    Can I ask u about removing splashes from their backgrounds?
    I have no Raya Pro and can’t understand your workflow completely. When you talking about inverting layers you mean creating a copy of layer and inverting that layes to produce an luminosity mask?
    And what was used to masking individual layers? Combibations of same luminosity masks?

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    • Max Bridge

      Hi Yan. Glad you liked it. Sorry I didn’t reply sooner. Been off on holiday.

      It’s been a while since I did this shot but I think my method was something like this.

      1) Go to channels and create a new channel based off the RGB
      2) Apply that channel as a layer mask to the splash layer
      3) Edit that mask with levels / curves to refine it further
      4) select the splash with focus area select
      5) manually delete any excess which focus area select missed
      6) check selection using curves to make sure ONLY the splash was selected.
      7) forgot one – this actually came first – invert the layer so the splash on a white background became a splash on a black “ish” background.

      That was the easier method which worked most of the time but on some of the splashes I had to use a more complex method of luminosity masks, being more precise with what I was selecting. For example, making a selection of only the highlights, or the midtones etc.

      To do that you don’t need Raya Pro, although it does make the process easier. I think that Jimmy McIntyre actually made a video which explains the technique but I can’t seem to find it now. It involves making selections using channels and then further restricting those selections. Have a quick search and I’m sure you’ll fund the video which currently eludes me .

      Hope that helps

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  3. Kristopher Galuska

    Fantastic shot! I have to ask though, are clients looking for shots like this? It is so perfect looking it looks CG. These kind of products are very easy to create in CG. So why wouldn’t an advertiser go that route? Then they could have reusable assets that work for print and video.

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    • Max Bridge

      Excellent question Kristopher! I wish I could tell you that I have the answer, but I do not. I may be able to create the imagery but this is still a market I’m trying to break into.

      I will say that the more I delve into this realm the more I feel that CGI is something I WILL need to learn.

      On the other hand, when I look at the work of some of the biggest product photographers in the industry, I see a mix of CGI and photography. That would suggest that there is room for both.

      Thanks for the great question!

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  4. Pino Collo

    hi max, fantastic shot and fantastic explanation.
    I have a couple of questions for you:

    how did you stop the bottle? it is just glue or is it a particolar kind of?

    you talked about fast flag, but i’d like to know if the diffuser on fast flag is a fabric or something like frost paper

    thank you so much!

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    • Max Bridge

      Hi Pino. Glad you like it.

      I use diffusion paper on the fast flag. I think that was Lee 216 but I’ve just got a roll of 129 which I’m hoping will be even better. Not tried it yet though.

      In terms of the glue, I just got a cheap hot glue gun from Amazon and found some relatively cheap glue sticks there too. The glue for glue guns comes in stick form. I’m not sure if they have different kinds of glue, perhaps they do, but I imagine most cheap ones you find will be ok. If you want to be safe, test it on something first.

      Not sure what you mean by stop the bottle though. Let me know if that still needs clarifying.

      Hope that helps

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    • Pino Collo

      thank you max for your advices.. i meant “fix” and not “stop”.. sorry :)

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  5. Kat Armendariz

    I am currently doing this for a lot of my ads! Great use of lighting!

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  6. Justin Haugen

    easy to spot your posts. Killer stuff, per usual

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