The Great Indoors: Photographing Water

The Great IndoorsPhotographing Water
Seeing is believing ‚ or is it? Jamal Alayoubi
reveals how to create liquid images that beguile the senses

This striking image of a wine glass (right) that appears to be throwing its contents into the air catches the imagination because it appears to contradict everything we think we know about gravity.

When we look at the image we subconsciously think: ‘How did they do that?’

The answer isn’t to be found in Photoshop or in a wizard’s wand either; rather it’s a deliberate set-up using a carefully positioned flashgun, a moving glass board, a wine glass, some glue and some food colouring. Read on to find out how it’s done and how you, too, can experiment and achieve similar effects.

Jamal’s Technique

Place the table 30cm away from the background , a plain white wall will make an ideal background. Place your flashgun under the table and point it towards the background. The trick is to prevent any reflections appearing on the glass or the splash.

Place the mirror or glass board on the table, making sure that you can easily slide it across the table. Secure the glass on the mirror, using double-sided tape or glue, ensuring that it’s neat and clean. Pour a little water into the glass and add a drop of food colouring to it. Don’t make the water too dark, though the effect works best when the liquid is translucent.

The Great Indoors


Place your camera on a tripod and set your angle, but make sure that you keep enough space in the upper part of the frame where the splash will take place. The correct camera settings will depend on your equipment, but I set mine to Manual mode, with a shutter speed of 1/100sec, an aperture of f/16, and ISO 200. For the image pictured here a 50mm lens was used, but you can use any.

Attach your flash cable or set up your flash to work wirelessly in commander mode with your camera. As with camera settings your flash settings will depend on what kit you’re using  my flash was set to Manual with power set at 1/64. A shutter speed of 1/100sec isn’t fast enough to freeze high-speed motion in normal light, so shoot in very low light instead to ensure the flash freezes the shot. You could use a lamp instead of a flash and rely on a fast shutter speed to freeze things, but you’ll need a very high-powered lamp to do so.

Take a test shot without moving anything to ensure you’ve got the correct lighting. Move your flash up or down, left or right until you get the best possible light.

Draw a line on the table along the far edge of the mirror. This marks where the mirror should be when you fire the flash and take the shot. In order to get the splash effect, pull the mirror slowly away from the line and then push it quickly forward, bringing it to a sudden stop at the line. Take the shot at this point. If you don’t have a cable release you may want to ask someone to help you with the sliding while you capture the image.

Kodak dcs The Great Indoors, still lifeAnd For My Next Trick…….
If you try to arrange the glasses without any water the glasses will simply topple over, the trick is to use the weight of the water to help balance the glasses. Do this by filling up the first glass (the one at the bottom of the pile) as it will then be the heaviest. Then place the second glass into the first one and add a little water in it. Now place the third glass in the second one and add just a small amount of water. You’ll have to add or subtract the water in the second and the third cups until you get the correct balance. Stay patient, as it’s not easy!

Wooden table,  Mirror or a glass board, Superglue or double-sided sticky tape,  Wine glass, Food colouring,  Camera, Tripod, Off-camera flashgun‚ Flash-cable or wireless commander system

(All images by Jamal Alayoubi)

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. The Great Indoors: Reflective and Shiny Still Lives
  3. 3. The Great Indoors: Photographing Water
  4. 4. The Great Indoors: Lightbox Photography
  5. 5. The Great Indoors: Scanner Photography
  6. 6. The Great Indoors: Painting by Torchlight
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