I recently discovered the work of talented photography wizard Tilo Gockel through a spectacular photograph he posted on The Strobist Facebook Group. This group is a great place to get inspiration and feedback on strobe photography, or photography where you use off camera flash. I highly recommend joining the group if you are at all interested in learning more about lighting techniques for your photography.
Anyway, Tilo posted this amazing image of a divers watch and the group went wild:
And it’s easy to see why! The image is striking for a lot of reasons, but the thing that sticks out to me most is how the water droplets add so much motion and interest to the shot. Using water in product photography in this way has never really occurred to me. I immediately thought that this was probably shot in an expensive studio space with expensive studio equipment. And then I saw the behind-the-scenes photo Tilo had posted. The setup was so incredibly simple and he had shot it in his own bathroom! Thanks Tilo, for kindly sharing the details of how you created such a stunning image.
Using Tilo’s setup as a guide I knew I wanted to experiment with a similar setup and see if I could achieve decent results. Tilo’s behind-behind-the scenes photo revealed that he was using crinkled tin foil taped up in a shower to bounce light back towards the camera and through the water droplets providing an extra sparkly light effect. I did the same and positioned an old cutting board across my own tub to support the products I planned to shoot. I decided to experiment using a piece of white poster board to bounce more soft light in from the side. I setup my YN-560 II Speedlight on a light stand, attached a PocketWizard trigger and wrapped them both in a large zip-lock bag to keep them dry from the shower water. I then setup some product on the board and fired some test shots (without the water on) to adjust for exposure and get an idea of what a good composition might be. I experimented with shooting macro with some Macro Extension Tubes but determined that I could get more of the result I wanted with My 24-105mm f/4 zoomed all the way to 105mm. Here’s the behind-the-scenes shot:
After the basic setup, I just turned the water on and experimented with how much the steam of water was hitting the board and products. I also experiment with moving the light position and camera angle quite a bit. I definitely got some good results, but I’d like to try some different surfaces and perhaps a dark poster board to provide a dark background for the water drops to contrast against. I picked up some tile slate from a tile store and will update this post after I have a chance to try using it as a surface. For some of the shots I placed some grapes on the board behind the product to try and add a little color. I found that it was easiest to put the camera on a tripod and make small adjustments after reviewing each shot even though you could shoot this handheld. Shooting with a flash will freeze all motion. My camera lens was close enough that I had to wipe off the lens after every few shots to clean off the water drops that started to accumulate.
After experimenting with product placement, light position and camera angel for about a half hour I was pretty wet and ready to dry off and start looking at the photographs on the computer. I loaded the images and selected one of my favorites to open in Photoshop. In the next to screenshots you can see how I adjusted the Raw settings to get the desired result. From here I added a little color correction, crop, and tonal contrast with a simple curves adjustment.
This series was a really fun to setup and shoot. Trying new things and getting out of our comfort zone really helps push or photography to the next level. I learned a ton and have some ideas for improving the next product shoot. I definitely want to add a dark background with a dark towel or poster board as I think that will help make the water drops really pop. I also want to experiment with other surfaces like slate, rock, or even metal.