Thursday, November 20, 2014

Water Splashes With Olympus & Yongnuo

I have this post as a draft since the first of July. It is one of the most daunting posts (for no apparent reasons) for me to write. But here we go. Click through for the full post.

I assume that you're aware of the DigitalRevTV channel, it is presented by an eccentric Kai Man Wong, and sometimes accompanied by a calm (but smart) Lok C, who used to do the video shooting and editing for all their episodes. Anyhoo, in one of their videos they made a fast flash photography tutorial where they shot frozen water action like the one you see above. In that episode, they used a nice studio with expensive studio flashes that have good power and very fast cycling, and if I remember correctly, they shot with a 1DX at 12 fps. Me and my friends were intrigued with the idea, so we decided to give it a try.


You can see from the couple of photos above that we went for a less "messy" shoot. We didn't want to drop water all over our clothes, as no one was paying us to do that. But how did we do it, and what equipment did we use?

First of all, we needed flashes, powerful ones with quick cycling. I had three Yongnuo 560 flashes, and from experience, I can shoot them continuously at 9 fps (the max burst rate of my E-M5) for a long ~ 16 image burst, but only at their lowest 1/128 power setting. Any higher, and the batteries won't be able to keep up. Using any light modifiers would also kill the light output. I also had access to my brother's 600EX Canon flash. So we decided to put three bare flashes to the camera right as a key light, and one flash to the camera left as a fill. I set the flashes to 1/64 power and tested the max burst rate. I was able to get an 8 fps burst with no black frames. Cool.

Next was the background, we bought black trash bags and hanged them to the wall, only to discover that they were too thin, and would reveal the white wall behind. I wanted them to go black, so I tested a few frames to see how it went. I used my E-M1 and 12-40 f/2.8 knowing they were weather sealed against any stray water. The camera was setup on a tripod.

Trash Bags with ambient light, a single halogen bulb at the top.


Key light + ambient


Key light alone


Key light + fill light (too hot)


Fill light power lowered a bit


Aperture closed a bit for more DOF (since there will be motion)


We're ready! ISO 1600, 1/250, f/8

The resultant images are the ones you see at the top. For post processing, it was a matter of using the black slider until most of the background went to pure black, then I had to do the remaining parts with the adjustment brush at -4 exposure. This could have been easier if we used a thicker black background, but that's what we had at the time. It was crazy fun, and all four of us took turns hitting the water with the bat. Focusing was easy when having the camera on a tripod. We focused manually using magnified view.

Batman! (pun intended)

Next, we decided to try some exploding water balloon shooting. I switched to the 75 1.8 to put the camera as far as possible from the water action, and get a very tight framing. We shot at 8 fps for this one as well, and went through three or four balloons before we got the shot we wanted. I ended up using ISO 800, 1/250 and f/6.3.

Ready? Get Set! Go!


And there it goes!


Color done with the adjustment brush

I hope you've enjoyed this post. I know I had a blast shooting this one. Next time, we return back to new/old camera gear.


  1. Great tutorial. However wanted to check how did you sync the flash between Olympus and Yongnuo? Follow up question is, if i want to try it with a single light source - Canon 430 Exii - how do i know how many flash it can fire at what rate? Where can i find that setting?

    1. Hi Eshwar, I am glad you enjoyed it. I am using both RF603 or 560TX Yongnuo triggers. Check my post here:

      As for your maximum frames per second, you can try the following: put your flash on your camera in manual mode, use the lowest power setting (lower power = quicker charging = higher fps), make sure you're using fresh batteries (I can't recommend Eneloop batteries enough), switch your camera to the highest fps it can shoot, manual mode, manual focus and start shooting a white wall in bursts.

      Now check your pictures to see if the flash can keep up with the high speed shooting. If it can keep up, start testing higher flash output settings and redo the test.

      If you're using a wireless trigger, it can affect the speed, so instead of mounting the flash I the camera, test using the trigger.


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