High-speed Splash Photography

Technique

High-speed Splash Photography

Explore the unpredictable world of high-speed splash photography with Bowens XMS1000 flash heads and a gorgeous shoe factory setting.

We gained access to a stunning, ex-shoe factory location in Norfolk and couldn't help but to create an outlandishly messy photoshoot. With Guðbjörg Ylfa running the shoot, we were excited to witness the Bowens XMS1000 flash heads freeze time for this avant-garde concept.

The idea was simple yet technically intriguing. Wex Photo Video's Product Content Specialist, Patrycja Reimus, envisioned a minimalistic background, with a graceful model unbothered by the storm of blood about to engulf her. Stage blood was the key component of this shoot as it delivered much-needed vibrancy that would break up the image. As a liquid, it also did not obscure the model and her clothes, unlike paint. Powder wasn’t an option either as it didn’t have the elegant flow of a liquid medium. Stage blood is also heavier than water mixed with food dye, and so it provided us with interesting movements that were expertly captured by Guðbjörg Ylfa.

Behind the scenes - pouring stage blood on model

The XMS1000 Flash Heads

Out of the four flash heads offered by Bowens, we chose the XMS1000 as they offered the most power. As the name suggests these flash heads are capable of delivering 1000 Ws of power with just 1 sec recycle time. Additionally, the high-speed sync capability proved indispensable since we were working with a 1/1000 shutter speed. It goes without question that fast shutter speed was necessary to “freeze time” or “freeze motion”. 

At the time of the shoot, we thought that we would have to heavily rely on the full power of the XMS1000. What we quickly realised was that the flash heads easily overpowered the natural light. The Shoe Factory Social Club, where we shot, was extremely bright. Directly behind us was a wall of large windows, letting in copious amounts of natural light. We were not about to move; we wanted to shoot in this exact spot. Luckily the flash heads did a fantastic job, and at about half the full power they offer.

The behind-the-scenes shots taken by Leo Jerome White, also a Product Content Specialist for Wex Photo Video, show the striking contrast from Guðbjörg Ylfa's stylised images using Bowens. It is fantastic value for money, considering that we were able to get two very different photoshoots completed in virtually the same spot, at the same time of day in one rented location.  

Since this was a location shoot, one might wonder why we didn’t utilise the Bowens XMT500 Flash Head, after all, it is a dedicated travel light – arguably the best choice for location shoots. This is because we wanted that power and speed to freeze motion. Even though the S in XMS1000 stands for “studio”, these lights were wonderful on location.

Bowens XMS100 flash head

Bowens XMS100 flash head with diffuser

The Set-Up

Our set-up consisted of a Sony A7R II at a low ISO of 200 with a Sony FE 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS Vario-Tessar Carl Zeiss T Lens and a Bowens XMTR Trigger. As mentioned before, we shot at 1/1000 shutter speed. Lighting equipment included the Bowens Collapsible Reflector in gold and, of course, 2 Bowens XMS1000 Flash Heads set to f-stop 7 – again not utilising the full potential of these lights goes to show how powerful they truly are. The key light was outfitted with a Bowens Octabox; whereas, the backlight was equipped with a Bowens Rectangular Soft Box.

Behind the scenes - equipment set-up

"I wanted to use the Octabox in front of the model to softly brighten her up while using a large source of light. The Octabox creates soft shadows and is often considered a flattering light modifier, for women especially (and men too of course). The model was then backlit with another softbox to get her to stand out from the background and for us to get more light through the stage blood when it was being thrown. The large reflector was used to even out the light on her face, to soften the shadows further, and to create attractive highlights on and around her cheekbones." - Guðbjörg Ylfa

On top of this, we made use of a MacBook Pro, extension cables, plenty of coffee, and a protective sheet to catch the blood. An electric blanket for the model was also heavily utilised since it was freezing on location. Finally, the shoot wouldn't be complete without 2 gallons of stage blood.

Behind the scenes - equipment set-up camera

Behind the scenes - equipment set-up laptop

The Process

Guðbjörg has previously worked with high-speed photography. The contrast between her previous shoots and this particular one is quite striking, and we are not just talking about the concept.

“I have used high-speed photography to capture flour being thrown onto models and capturing the ‘splash’ of that. I feel like this was very different due to this being coloured liquid, and so you have to be very careful with the throws as you won’t get many chances to get the shots you want. With the flour, we could use blowers to get the flour off the models, and then we could re-shoot, but you don’t get that option using stage blood or any other coloured liquid.”

Glamour shot of the model

Before we inevitably destroyed the delicate outfit that the model was wearing, we wanted to make the most out of the location. With the natural light filling the space, both Guðbjörg and Leo took fashion shots. As Guðbjörg mentioned before, every shot counted since we wouldn't be able to clean up the model without her having to take a shower – a facility that was lacking from the location.

After about an hour of taking clean photos, test photos, and tweaking the model's look, we were ready to take the step towards the point of no return. 

Behind the scenes - fashion shots

Behind the scenes -make up

The first order of business was to take the main photo of the model in our favourite pose – one that looked good but was also comfortable, easy to hold, and easy to replicate. This was done for health and safety reasons to prevent the model from having her eyes open during the blood throwing. After this, we were able to shoot multiple splash photographs of the blood colliding with the model’s body. We experimented with different angles and volumes for a large portfolio of splashes.

Behind the scenes - pouring stage blood on model 2

The final image is a composite image of five stand-alone photographs taken during the shoot. They were meticulously put together in editing by Guðbjörg Ylfa. By focusing on the flow of the liquid and the contrasting colours, she was able to create a truly unique vision.

Final Image

Final Thoughts

The final image is bold, experimental, and technically intriguing. The ethereal appearance of the model perfectly encapsulates Guðbjörg’s style of photography inspired by the Renaissance. The mesmerising movement of blood appears to almost dance around the model, while the deep red heavily contrasts her attitude.

With our photoshoot wrapped up and our imagination brought to reality, what did the lead photographer herself think about the performance of the Bowens XMS1000 flash heads?

“I thought they worked very well. It was easy to adjust them to the settings I wanted. They’re not confusing to work with either. Whether you’re used to the older Bowens lights or other brands, you can easily adjust to these – or even if you’re new to lights altogether!”

If you would like to see some of the behind-the-scenes action, we also filmed a short video with Amy Moore of Wex Photo Video showcasing the process. Thank you to the Shoe Factory Social Club for entrusting us with their space and to our fearless model – Emma Jarvis.  

Crew

Lead Photographer – Guðbjörg Ylfa

Content Marketing Manager – Amy Moore

Concept and SFX ­– Patrycja Reimus

BTS Shots – Leo Jerome White

Model – Emma Jarvis

Assistant – Sean Sennstrom

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