There’s something about an image that captures a moment at its peak. Whether it’s the perfect expression, an event never to be repeated, or in my case, a gallon of milk thrown through the air, a photographer’s job is to capture that perfect moment. I recently shot a billboard campaign for a milk company in which I was tasked with creating four images that captured important moments in a person’s life.
Each image featured milk splashes, which are an incredible challenge to capture. While I primarily use Westcott gear, when capturing action I turn to my Broncolor Scoro pack with two strip boxes on each side of the subject fairly close in. The Scoro pack allows me to shoot with a T1 flash duration of 8,000/sec., which I have found is the sweet spot for capturing perfectly sharp splashes.
I am sometimes asked to describe my lighting style. I tend to shoot food and liquids with the same lighting you might use on an athlete to accentuate muscle tone and other fine detail in the subject. This lighting setup also allows me to stay out of the way of my own light because I often trigger the camera with one hand and throw the liquid with the other. You can have an assistant trigger the camera, but the timing is never as accurate.
An important thing to remember when photographing splashes, especially with a variety of components involved, is to capture as much as you can in one shot. Only shoot extra elements to be composited in Photoshop if it simply isn’t possible to do so “in camera.” Liquids reflect the color and the shadows cast by anything in its vicinity. Liquids will also splash against objects, creating drama and excitement that would be nearly impossible to reproduce in post-production.
For the vegetable image, I hung each ingredient from armature wire in exactly the position I wanted, and poured the milk over the ingredients, capturing as many images as I could. The milk created quite a few small splashes on the vegetables and brightened nearby objects. Capturing the scene in as few shots as possible added quite a bit of realism. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen splash images for advertising composited using many images where the components of the image simply don’t interact with one another. It’s easy for the eye to pick up poor color and shadow work in an image, so it is crucial to get it right in camera as well as to be able to create them in Photoshop.
If you enjoy capturing liquid splashes, you don’t need many specialized pieces of equipment. You could possibly create each of these images with a pair of speedlights (close to the subject), any DSLR, 20 gallons of milk, and some solid Photoshop skills. For this campaign, we were required to create images that would stand up to being reproduced 80 feet wide with a viewing distance of four feet! This forced us to shoot 80 megapixel files that once inside Photoshop, left us with stitched composites so large, we needed to purchase new computers for the studio just to finish this project. Happy shooting!
Steve Hansen is a Seattle-based commercial food, beverage, and liquids photographer who creates images for advertising and packaging. You can see more of his work at SteveHansenVisuals.com, and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Make sure you check out his brand new class, Food Photography Master Class: Strobes, tomorrow at KelbyOne!