Level: Beginner

Water in still life and advertisement photography

As promised, here is the tutorial for what I call “underwater” product photography (not sure what the right name for this). We shoot several products, from fruits to a shampoo bottles, and now I am glad to show you the result.

water splash in advertising photography

Gold gel, one more light on the background

This is the most enjoyable photo-shot I had for last few month: not only the most technically challenging but the end result is the most eye-catching and outstanding. The idea was to use a water as a ultimate background to emphasize the product: water can be transparent or 100% reflective (well, not a water itself, but the water-to air boundary), the effect called total internal reflection. Long story short: when we see the water surface at relatively sharp angle, it become almost 100% reflective, acting as a mirror. Now, if we’ll disturb the water surface so it will form a waves, some part of the wave will be a mirror-like (due to an angle) , and some will be transparent, allowing light to be transmitted.

Lets look on this from below the surface:

Lighting setup for water splash photography:

Atlanta photographer advertisement underwater lighting setup

The lighting setup, side view

I’ve used gray backdrop behind the tank because gray can be easily darkened or highlighted. The floor under the tank is white, we need this to work as an additional reflector. There are two lights from the top: one, more intense (1600WS full power) 10° spot to be reflected from the surface (follow the dot line), 20° spot to highlight a background visible through the tank. Two spot lights were used to highlight the object, one from the front-top, shown on the schema drawing. the second was from the right behind. Getting lost? :-) To make it easier to understand, here you go, the real setup.

lighting setup:

still life underwater photography lighting setup

Actual lighting setup

Lights by number:

1. 20° spot with gold gel to highlight a large spot on a background, visible through the tank. It was placed to be on the front to spill some light on the object making a tiny gold accent.

2. White 10° spot light, only to highlight the object. Placed high on top to let reflection form the bottom of tank highlight the object from the bottom.

3. “Hair” light. You know what it did to our bottle, right? Just look at right side (left if it was flipped upside down) of it. :-)

4. 10° Spot hitting right on the behind of the tank, to be reflected from the surface at given camera angle. There are a lot more little nuances about this shoot: some of them will be explained on the video, I tied to make it as much explainable as I can.

Now, the outcome. Different objects using the same (or slightly changed) setup. As usual, images was under post-processing, meaning we cleaned them and rotated, when needed:

water advertising product photography example

Green gel for the reflection

under water studio photography: fruit splash

under water studio photography: fruit splash

Behind the scene video, where I tried to explain and show everything.I did my best, and believe me, this is not an easy job (for me:-)


Equipment and shooting spec:

Camera gear:

Lighting, light modifiers and accessories:

All shots were done with: shutter speed 1/250 sec, F16, ISO 100, Custom WB 5600K


06/06/2010 Update: There is an article with retouching before and after 100% crop for one of the images shown above at our post-production blog. Quite impressive amount of work, don’t you think?! These images did not come as clean as you them now:-)

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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3 comments to Water in still life and advertisement photography

  • Victor Wolansky

    Also, if you still have that aquarium, could you tell me how thick is the glass if you have a what to measure it? We both probably think in metrics, so millimeters is fine with me.

    Thanks a lot.

  • Victor Wolansky

    Hi! I have being trying to do this for some time and had no luck yet, all looks awful. I see you built your own aquarium instead of buying one, did you do that for any special reason? Are you using any special quality glass? I have the feeling that the glass I’m using is creating some chromatic aberrations and slightly softening the image. This glass that comes with store bought aquariums, when you look with from the side, it looks a bit green, but I think that is probably normal on all the glasses, or yours it totally clear even if you look 90 degrees on the side?

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