Level: Beginner

The mysterious water balls

This past weekend, I played with these little gel-like clear balls that we’ve had for a few weeks now sitting and waiting to be photographed. That gel has exactly the same refraction that water has, meaning they become completely invisible in the water.

Eventually I had time to play with this prop, just to make sure it will look as I had expected.

I was simply dropping them into a very shallow water for this image.

Below are non-manipulated images, directly from camera RAW.  Only WB and some color tint were changed in ARC.

Liquid splash photography

Liquid photography water ball by Alex Koloskov

Liquid photography water ball by Alex Koloskov

Liquid photography water ball by Alex Koloskov

Liquid photography water ball by Alex Koloskov

The one below was captured using color gel

Liquid splash photography  by Alex Koloskov

Liquid splash photography by Alex Koloskov


The lighting setup is very simple:

Black glass with kids play dough on edges to keep the water on it; stripbox from top and a diffuser on the back, highlighted by the strobe.

A position of stripbox was essential since the picture was changing dramatically if I move it behind, directly on top or slightly in front of the water balls. You can see the different reflection on the images above.

lighting setup for liquid splash photography

lighting setup for liquid splash photography

As you see, I was using PCB Einsteins. Love them :-)

Now we’ll need to think on how we can use these gel balls; they can be a very interesting prop for my liquid and product photography.


This is the gel balls, got them from Michael’s craft store. The only top layer is visible, the rest is covered with water.

Gel balls:-)


Shoot Specification:
Camera gear:

Lighting, light modifiers and accessories:

Exposure specification: shutter speed 1/200 sec, F13, ISO 100

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About The Author: Alex Koloskov

The lighting magician, owner of AKELstudio, Inc.

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12 comments to The mysterious water balls

  • Very slick ! I just orderer a bunch of these gel balls to have some fun with…thank you for the inspiration :-)

  • Jörg Seidel

    Hi Alex,
    many greatings from Germany. ;-)
    today I tried once the photos with the gel balls. Unfortunately I only have two flashes with 300 Ws. I notice that I get the “flying” ball is not sharp, although I have voted with the following settings: 5D Mark II, 1/200, f10, ISO 100. (see photo) At 1/250 I can already see the curtain of the camera. How do you get the pictures so sharp. Can you give me a hint? Thank you.

    • Jorg,

      Flash duration is a key. The action stopped not by a shutter speed, but by a short flash duration. What strobe do you use?
      Try speedlite (or nay hot-shoe battery powered strobe) on 1/8 of it’s power, you’ll see what I mean:-)

      I talk a lot about this on liquid photography tutorials, check my early ones

      • Jörg Seidel

        @Alex Koloskov, thanks for your helpfull comment.

        With “Speedlight” do you mean the system flash, a shoe mount, which is plugged to the hot shoe?

        Incidentally, I have two studio flashes, each with max. 300 Ws that I can turn down yet, but I do not know how to extend the flash duration. Hope to find something in your tutorials…
        Have a nice day…

  • Hi Alex,

    Where have you had luck finding Black Glass? I’m having a hard time finding it in my area. All the craft store and places like Home Depot do not carry it. Is this something that I need to special order from a glass specialty shop?

  • David Atkinson

    Love your work and a big thanks for the tutorials that go with the shots. I’m just getting into the water type photography and have found the gel balls on ebay.uk, different sizes and pretty cheap. Keep up the brilliant work.

  • James Farley

    This post inspired me to have a go, actually took longer trying to find somewhere that stocked the balls than it did setting up and taking the shots!
    My setup was a little more basic than the above, SB-900 fired with Nikon CLS, and another generic flashgun used as a slave, both gelled with various hues.
    Used a bit of food colouring in the water as well to jazz up the scene a little, black worked surprisingly well! Didnt quite get the ‘splash’ I was hoping for, think water was a little too deep, but will give another go soon.


  • Kerry Loudenback

    Alex, again GREAT inspiration! The water looks very viscous almost like it has oil added to it. Was it just plain water? I don’t have the Einsteins so I’ll have to try this with my speedlites. I also don’t own a macro so will have to try my 24-105 or 70-300. Gorgeous shots! Something very sensual about them. Great work!


  • Thanks for sharing. It took a while to get the lighting right, but it was a good lesson.

    A tip – on handling those slippery gel balls. A styptic stick (for shaving cuts) tube is just right for the larger balls. It slides over them and holds them via suction upside down. Just gently squeeze the tube to release the ball for a (somewhat) controlled splash.

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