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Milky Splash over iPhone: BTS of the liquid photography shot

I had this BTS article posted on Scott Kelby blog several month ago: it was my guest post on Scott’s blog. Now I decided to post an extended version of the tutorial-BTS from the same shot here, on PHOTIGY. It will be a great addition to other liquid photography tutorials we have, and I am sure you guys will only appreciate this.

Liquid and product photography mixed in one shot:

Splash like milk h-speed liquid photography tutorial by Alex Kolsokov

The Idea was to get a white iPhone and wrap it with white milk-like liquid splash, all around, like it would happen if stream of milk would hit a phone from behind. iPhone from a few smartphones available in white, and showing with the milky splash will look really cool:-)

Let me show how we did it, step by step.

First step: the phone shot.

Usually, shots like this is composite. Meaning we do separate shots for each piece and then assemble everything in Photoshop.
So, the first shots was a phone alone.
This supposed to be a straight catalog-like product shot, with phone screen on. Because of the shape of the iPhone, this is quite simple task, with one little trick. Stuff like this I shoot with strobes, and camera is usually set to X-sync speed (1/200sec for Canon 5d mkII) and I do not care about ambient (in-studio) lighting.
With strobes, effective exposure (I mean amount of light which will hit camera’s sensor) determined by power output of the strobe and lens aperture. Shutter speed does not affect the exposure as long as it longer than a flash duration and short enough to prevent in-studio ambient light to affect the shot. The only issue with such approach is that we can’t capture weak continues lights, such as modeling lights or.. a smartphone’s screen. Below is the phone with screen “ON” at maximum brightens and 1/200sec shutter speed @ F16:

 iPhone studio shot


Despite the brightness of the iPhone screen, it appears completely black, as given exposure time was too short to let camera to capture it. So, how to get it right?
You probably already know what should be done to get the screen exposed correctly: lower the shutter speed. Which means that any other lights should be turned off: studio light, modeling light and even the monitors (I always shoot tethered in studio). There should be no other lights affecting exposure now, only strobe impulse and phone’s screen light.

This time we had shutter set to 1/5sec @ F16:

Liquid photography tutorials, splash on iphone


I often call such shot is “in-studio HDR” because in one shot we are getting like a double exposure: one from the strobe at effective “shutter speed” of about 1/2000 sec (determined by a flash duration measured t.1) and a second one from the phone’s display at effective duration of 1/5 sec, determined by a camera actual shutter speed. In one shot we have captured a huge dynamic range: strobe light and thousand times less brighter phone’s display light.

The last step was a post-production, where iphone had to be clipped out from a background:

The lighting setup

One stripbox from the left, about 45 degree from the phone, and another stripbox on the right, slightly behind the phone. Because the phone face surface is completely flat and sides are non- glossy brushed metal, there was no issues to deal with unwanted reflections often found on glossy spherical subjects.


I used a Matthews Minigrip clamp mounted to a lighting stand and iPhone cable with connector to attach the phone to it.


Part Two: The splash creation

The plan was to use iPhone more than just for this shot, so we did a trick: glued iPhone case to a rod and mounted it exactly the same way as the phone was:

We also covered with plastic the whole shooting area. We were going to use latex paint and it was necessary to protect equipment and studio from it. All the lighting was covered as well. Here is how studio looked like after such waterproofing:

Front view: plastic screen was fixed around lens hood

I have also adjusted the lighting accordingly to a new requirements: because latex paint is not transparent, there was no reason to have stripbox on the right behind the subject, so I moved it to be front-right. More frontal light is needed for white liquid to keep it white. To smooth the shadows even more, I’ve replaced narrow stripbox with square softbox.

One more softbox was added on the left, far from behind, just to create a slight edge on the splashes from that side. Oh yes, the background lights were added as well. We did not care about background when shooting the phone, as phone will be clipped out anyway.

For the splash part, we needed the real background. We got yellow seamless roll of paper hung about 5 feet behind the “splash area,” it was lit by 2 strobes with standard PCB reflectors.

After everything was set, the very first shot I did was a shot of the X-rite color checker card:

This is a very important part of each shot to have a correct color profile. Especially when shooting on such colorful background: without a color profile it won’t be possible to get a right white balance and correct colors for the subject and background.

Even if we are going to tweak colors during a post-production, I always have to have a way to revert to correct colors when needed.

When everything was ready, we started to throw the liquid. As mentioned before, we used latex white paint, and mixed it with water to 1:1 ratio. It gave us the thickness we were looking for.

The Lighting:

I use Paul C Buff Einstein strobes, as they have great stopping power in action mode. Typical power range I use is 100-150Ws, and flash duration is 1/6000 -1/4000 of a second. Such short light impulse is what freezes the action, not a fast shutter speed.

Liquid splashy part o the shot

We got as many shots as we felt that would be needed to get a set of cool looking splashes to be combined into that flower-like splash around the phone.

combine splash with iphone shot tutorial


100% crop of one of the shots, look how excellent Einsteins at stopping flying droplets.

Stopping power of 1/4000 sec exposure



The 100% of the final image:

iphone splash liquid photography

 The Bonus image 

One of the cool “features” of splash photography that usually there are so many “unused” pieces that photographer and retoucher (mostly retoucher of course) can create something completely different, which won’t eve look like it was done with photos from the same set.

Here is an example, the liquid flower created from  splashes we got during this iPhone shot:

Milky Flower

milky splash liquid photography tutoria by alex koloskov


 Behind-the-scene video


Only few days left for the promotional price on my upcoming course, do not miss it! 

Like it? Want to learn how to create shots like these? Take a look at what I have for you:

Liquid Photography Essentials pack



About The Author: Alex Koloskov

The lighting magician, owner of AKELstudio, Inc.

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