I have recently acquired a new piece of equipment for my High Speed Liquid Splashes. It’s the Splash Art II Kit from Joe Dyer at High Speed Photography UK. I found the gear through a group on Flickr and noticed that Joe lived just a few miles form me – so went over for a demo.
He was very happy to show me what the kit could do, I was very impressed and bought one on the spot! Here’s what was included:
The kit comprises:
- Dedicated Splash Art Controller with DC power in, 12v out (to drive the valve) and camera remote out (with 5m extension cable).
- 12v plug-top power supply
- 1 large retort stand and clamps
- Bespoke ball-head mount for valve assembly
- 12V brass valve with integral Mariotte syphon bottle attachment
My first impression was that everything was well built, although I was a little disappointed that the controller unit had no labels! However, it’s pretty obvious from the cables provided that they will only fit into their own hole – the leftmost cable is the 12V DC power from the plug top transformer; the middle cable (with the white stripe) is the 12V output to the valve and the right hand cable is the 2.5″ stereo jack for controlling the camera shutter (with suitable adaptor cable for driving which ever camera you have).
The control knobs are as follows:
- Top left: size of first drop (duration)
- Top middle: length of delay between drops
- Top right: size of second drop (duration)
- Bottom left: delay before firing camera
- Bottom right: actuation button and LED indicator
While I was there, I also bought a couple of Joe’s bespoke ball-head flash mounts which fit onto any retort stand with universal clamps. These look to be invaluable for holding flash guns in precise position, something which I have struggled with in the past. Being able to mount one above the other also provides interesting possibilities for twin-coloured background graduations.
Joe also kindly threw in a bottle of Karo corn syrup (which he uses as a thickener for his liquid splashes) and a large black paint roller tray to serve as the dropping reservoir. I’d previously had difficulty finding anything big enough to let me capture the reflections cleanly without a horizontal line in the background. This seemed like an excellent, cheap solution.
I set the kit up in my studio and thought I would have a go at photographing some crowns – the precise timing of these is not quite as critical as for collisions, and I wanted to get used to the gear before getting too complicated.
As you can see, my setup is now very similar to Joe’s, but with only two flashes behind the perspex, with coloured gels on each. There is also one flash to the left of the valve stand (camera right) with a gridded snoot, pointing at the splash zone.
Holding the actuation button for 3 seconds puts the control unit into single-drop mode required for crowns. Once I had set the focus, exposure and flash gels, I was up and running in a few minutes:
I was pleased with these initial results and wanted to try some collisions next. So late one evening (probably a mistake) I set the gear up to try and capture a splash collision in a wine glass. It’s a bit cliché, I know, but I haven’t done it yet!
No matter what I did, nothing went right. Yes, I was getting some splashes out of it, but none of the drops were colliding, no matter which knob on the controller I twiddled (and I twiddled them all!).
Rather deflated, eventually I gave up and went to bed. But as with many problems, if you leave them alone for a while and stop worrying about them, the solution will often come to you out of the blue.
A few days later, I was on the verge of emailing Joe and asking what I might be doing wrong, when I had a hunch. In fact, there were several factors in play which had prevented me getting collisions. Firstly, the drop height wasn’t sufficient – by the time the second drop had come out, the first had long ago rebounded into the glass. So a minimum of 20-30cm seemed to be needed. It was only about 15cm from the top of the liquid in the glass to the valve nozzle.
Secondly – camera shutter lag. It hadn’t really been a problem for the crowns (mainly due to the height issue as well, I suspect) but the camera was firing to too late catch any collision which might have occurred.
And thirdly – I was just using unthickened water, the surface tension is quite low and the rebounds tend to be more lively (but less interesting).
So I tried my next session dropping into a very short glass vase (at least 30cm below the valve nozzle), using Mirror Lock-Up mode (meaning the lag between the shutter button being pressed and the exposure starting is at an absolute minimum), and using a water with 20% corn syrup solution. Suddenly, it all came together – virtually every frame was a keeper!
A few days later I tried some shots dropping into the paint roller tray, and was delighted to get the reflections in as well as the splash:
You might ask why I’ve bought this kit rather than using my Camera Axe system? One reason is the valves which came in the Camera Axe Valve sensor are very cheap – two out of three have now stopped working (having left them in a drawer unused for a few months). And although the drop size, delay and camera/flash timing is much more precise with the Camera Axe, it is much more susceptible to changes in the fluid reservoir, since it is only a small open syringe. That means, just as you get the parameters right, everything is thrown out again when the fluid level changes. Which is why I needed to sort out a Mariotte syphon for it. Having seen Joe’s ready made syphon bottle and better quality valve, I thought I would give this system a go.
I would certainly recommend the Splash Art Kit to people who are just wanting to start out with water splashes, as you will get results pretty quickly. The Camera Axe required a lot more set up time each time it was used. I took the Splash Art Kit to a local club a few weeks ago and used it for a live demonstration of water splash photography, and it was very rugged, took very little set up time and produced consistent results.
I guess my ideal setup would be using the Camera Axe electronics to control Joe’s valve and syphon. That would also allow for the possibility of controlling two valves, which is currently not an option with the Splash Art Kit. I plan to build an interface box which will let me connect the two systems together – I just need some time to design and make it!