Making a Splash

Sitting at the bar down by our lake, drowning my sorrows, lamenting not making it to Utah this year, it dawned on me that I’ve never really taken many toy photos in the lake’s water.

Maybe it’s that thing where you don’t notice things in your own backyard. You know, because you see them all the time, they somehow become humdrum. Or maybe it’s just because I built a bar down by the lake and a beer is more enticing than toys?

Anyway, as I scrolled though the #UTToyPhotoSafari posts and stories, I decided the rectify this. I finished my beer, and trudged up the hill to our home and grabbed all the gear I’d need.

Water: Hungry, hungry hippo
Hungry, hungry hippo

What I grabbed

  • A remote shutter control
  • Tripod
  • Camera
  • LumeCube
  • A can of compressed air
  • Toys
  • Another beer (although this had nothing to do with taking toy photos)

Sure, I could’ve set up a scene and photographed it taking advantage of the reflections, but I wanted movement. And that’s why I grabbed the can of compressed air.

Water: Aqua Ambush
Aqua Ambush

What I learned

  • Set the camera up as far away from the water as possible. I learned this quickly as I sat on the lake edge wiping water from the lens.
  • Set the shutter speed as fast as possible to best capture the splash. I set it at 1/1000 for these photos.
  • Patience. Capturing the precise moment the air hit the water and the splash was just right took quite a few attempts. Setting the camera to shoot images continuously helped get capture the photo I was after.
  • Mistakes are sometimes wonderful surprises.

One photo that I first thought was destined for the scrapheap turned out to be more intriguing than I’d first thought.

water: Oops! Or maybe not...
Oops! Or maybe not…

An overzealous burst of air from can blew the stegosaurus over. It created a tidal wave of water. And it also blew mist as well as a blast of air. As I scrolled though the images on my camera, I also deleted this one. Once I imported it into Lightroom, I’m happy I didn’t.

Do you have any tips to share about photographing toys in water and creating splashes?

– Brett

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  1. I’ve almost never shot toys in water. I’m usually too nervous about dropping one in and watching it get swept away or sink into the murky depths. XD My current camera wouldn’t shoot quick enough anyway to properly capture the splash.

    • brett_wilson

      Oh, I’ve seen toys sink to the bottom of murky depths! Luckily they weren’t my toys, but it’s still unnerving!
      Sometimes a blurred splash has wonderful effect. Maybe if you get the nerve to try it, you might be surprised at what your camera can capture? I’d love to see the results.

  2. Brett, this is a great post – let me begin with: I love the photos … that hippo! And now I feel encouraged to try canned air and water one day. Working in H0 scale and mainly building my sets out of cardboard, water did not seem like a good idea, and the canned air might just blow everything over. I use plastic wrap for water (and sometimes wave it in front of the lens to create fog). But there are 1/12 action figures waiting to be photographed. And experimented with. So thanks! This is a very helpful post.

    • brett_wilson

      Thanks a bunch for your kind words Tobias.
      Canned air and HO scale? That would be a challenge! Maybe securing the figures to the “ground” somehow might help. I think the bigger challenge would be getting the splash to be in scale with HO. Hmmm… now I’m curious to experiment with small scale toys and water too!

  3. Holy smokes that “mistake” pic is gorgeous. I love your backyard experimenting and your detailed sharing of the tools and tricks you used. We sure missed you in Utah and I’m glad to see you were at least two beers, two dinosaurs, and a hippo in for this cool post. Love to you and the family.

    • brett_wilson

      Yeah, I was so happy I didn’t delete that mistake when I was down at the lake. I missed everyone too. It was bittersweet seeing all the amazing photos and IG stories. Dennis’ live video of the welcome really ramped up the “Awww” feels. I was looking around the room for you, wondering if I’d got it wrong that you were attending? And then you and Kiwi made a fashionably late entrance! It was so good to see everyone!!

  4. Beautiful shots, Brett! So glad you decided to experiment with toys at the lake. Toys and water are my favorite combo, personally. Definitely need to pack along some compressed air next time we go, though. It’s really challenging to make the right kind of splash with hands or dropped rocks (the way I’ve done it in the past). Your tips are so helpful, too!

    You were missed at the meetup, for sure. Glad you were able to watch the livestream of the opening time!

    • brett_wilson

      I’d tried with dropping rocks and all I achieved was frustration! A can of compressed air works so much better for me. Plus you can “dust off” your toys with it when they get dirty.
      Oh, the livestream was so much fun to watch. It really captured the excitement of what was obviously another amazing safari!

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