I went with friends A and M to the waterpark the other day. We had a glorious sunny day (with a chilly wind), and M in particular was more excited than I have ever seen a child get- quite literally quivering with excitement at the sight of the coloured slides and water-drenched playgrounds, prancing like a pony on the spot while she waited for the sluggish adults with her to keep up (or not). She had a great time.
Water makes for an awesome photography subject at almost any time- its textures, the way it changes, the way it plays with the light… There’s a myriad of different combinations, each of them unique.
In a flash of brilliant foresight I took the WP DC-21 dive case for my Powershot G9 so that I had a splashproof camera. In the case I don’t get as much control over shutter-speed and aperture, so I set it on Program, had it underexpose the shots slightly by default, and let the camera chose its settings. In the bright sunlight, the camera compensated by choosing a fast shutter-speed.
I spent a bit of time at the bottom of some of the slides catching M and A as they hit the splash-tray at the bottom. And splash they did. Even the process of taking the photos was fun, as spraying water slooshed over the camera lens- and my nasal passages to boot.
With the fast shutter-speed, the camera froze the sprays in beautiful moments of physical expression. Strings of loosely-associated water-droplets hanging in space, great shimmering sheets of translucent fluid frozen like ice in a moment of time, and the beautiful fluid contours that to the naked eye break apart quicker than we can take them in, but captured by light sensors, remain like some crystaline architecture.
These shots are some of my favourites- made more fun by the bright colours of the playground themselves. I’m especially fond of this last shot and the way M’s face is (by pure chance) framed by the tube of hurtling water.
Note: Click the photos to see more detail.
How to freeze splashes with the camera:
It really comes down to Fast Shutter Speed. The faster the shutter speed, the sharper the droplets of water will appear (i.e. the less distance they will be able to move during the time the shutter is open). Speeds around and beyond 1/1000th of a second will give best results. Increasing the shutter speed obviously decreases the amount of light getting into the camera (a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second lets in half the light photons of 1/500th of a second- obviously) so you need to be able to compensate for this. Shooting on a sunny day will allow faster shutter speeds (but you can’t always control this). Increasing your aperture (to numbers like f/2.8) will allow more light in so you can balance the faster shutter-speed. Likewise increasing your ISO (from, say, 100 to 400, which allows the image to expose 4 times quicker) also has the same effect.
Note the downsides. Shooting on a sunny day can lead to high-contrast photos (bad for portraits, as a rule) and if you shoot into the sun, expect backlighting effects (like the black-and-white, above), lens-flare, overexposure or a loss of colour. Increasing the aperture reduces the depth-of-field (the amount of the image front-t0-back which is kept in focus)- when shooting close to the subject you’ll find that as little as a few inches of the photo only are sharp, while the rest falls quickly out of focus- great artistic effect if you nail it right (or get lucky- see the last shot). Increasing ISO adds ‘noise’ or ‘grain’ to a photo (depending on how good the sensor is) so shots may appear of a lower quality.
If you’re not comfortable managing your camera’s settings on fully manual (M) mode, and the automatic (A) mode isn’t giving you the results you want, set the camera to the time-value (Tv) mode, which lets you directly control shutter-speed while automatically compensating the other exposure values to give you the parameters you want.
Note that to get the right moment of splash and the best sprays, you need to get the timing right. Pre-focusing the camera on the point of impact is your best bet. Pre-focused, most SLR cameras are instantaneous so it comes down to your reflexes. If you’ve got a point-and-shoot or compact camera, these have varying delays (even pre-focused) so you’ll need to be familiar with these. Alternatively you can set the camera to multiple-exposure mode and hold down the fire button. A good camera can take several frames per second (depending on the motor/drive and the format of the exposure (RAW, hi-rez JPEG, lo-rez JPEG) and can capture several shots of action to give you a good chance of getting the shot. Most point-and-shoots have slower drives and often have long delays between frames so you could miss the fun.
Of course, you can just point, shoot and hope for the best. That works too.