Home Photography Ideas: Painting Underwater Blowouts

Watch Video: Home Photography Ideas – Painting Underwater Blowouts

When brewing a cup of coffee, you will surely have noticed the wonderful swirling patterns created when milk is poured into it. If the cup was glass, you could see the milk flowing below the surface. And if you replace that cup with a glass aquarium and replace the milk with paint, you suddenly have a very photogenic subject.

Once turned on, we can freeze this flow of paint in full motion with our camera and capture a slice of time. All it takes is a little patience and lots of water – in fact, we only need a few basics to get started.

We have a glass aquarium and we use acrylic paint. Because it’s oil-based, it doesn’t mix instantly with water. Instead, it will sustain itself by drifting through the tank, creating more sculptural shapes.

In terms of camera gear, we have a few flashes – it’s fine if you only have one, but you’ll definitely get better results with dual speed lights. We plugged a wireless trigger into each flash and a transmitter into our camera’s hot shoe. Use hot shoe footrests to rest the flashes on the table, or use stands for them if you have a smaller table setup than the one we used.

We use a macro lens (the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro) to get closer to the painting action and fill the frame, but you can just as easily use standard zoom or telephoto. However, you will need to position the camera farther from the tank as the minimum focus distance of a non-macro telephoto lens will be farther.

This photo project is all about the prep, as it takes about 15 minutes to clean and fill the camera-ready tank every time. But it only takes a few seconds to nail the shot!

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Fill the tank

01 Camera setup

Set your drive mode to continuous shooting, to allow multiple shots to be taken while the shutter button is pressed. This means you get a few bites out of the icing before the water becomes a cloudy mess.

02 Manual mode for flash

We want enough depth of field to make the paint shapes look sharp, and since we’re shooting up close, we used f/11. We set the shutter speed to 1/200s (which is the maximum flash sync speed of most cameras).

03 Which lens is the best?

Place your camera on a tripod and center it with the tank. Do your best to fill the frame with the tank – a 100mm macro lens is ideal for this, but you can also use a telephoto zoom.

04 Pre-focus before shooting

Take a wooden spoon and hold it in the middle of the tank. Then pre-focus on it and switch to manual focus to lock the focus point. Now your focus will be maintained at this point throughout the shot.

05 Flashes ready!

Fire two flashes with wireless triggers attached to them. Using a hot shoe foot plate on each of them, place them on either side of the aquarium. We set them to 1/16 power to speed up recycle times.

06 wireless triggers

We use wireless flash triggers that work by radio frequency. However, the infrared triggers will work well because the two flashes are close together on the table top, in the line of sight of the camera.

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07 Pour

When you pour the paint into the water, do it very close to the surface; when dropped from a height, the paint falls faster and impacts the water harder, creating air bubbles as it sinks. Additionally, the paint unfolds more photogenic when poured just above the surface.

08 Take the picture

You can use a remote trigger if you do it yourself and shoot/pour the paint simultaneously. But it’s easier to have a friend pour the paint while you take the shots, because the pourer can focus on the proper technique while you concentrate on shooting!

09 Fill up!

Once you have the first shots of the paint pouring, you sometimes have another chance for a second pour. More often than not, however, the initial pour will have made the water too full of paint swirls for any real shot, so it’s time to rinse and repeat.

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