Creative paint splash photography

Rebecca Greig

The joy of this creative photography project is that it isn’t too difficult to achieve and the final results are incredibly striking


The joy of this creative photography project is that it isn’t too difficult to achieve and the final results are incredibly striking. You’ll need plenty of space, a consistent lighting source, and some time to get the setup just right, but with a bit of experimentation it shouldn’t take long to create your own dynamic sound paintings.

First, you’ll need to source a speaker or subwoofer that’s fairly large, so you’ve got enough of an area to spread the paint onto. You can then cover it in plastic wrapping and add your liquid on top. In this project we used poster paints, opting for fluorescent colours to create the most impact. You might want to mix in a little water so it’s not too viscous to splash, but the trick is not to make the liquid so runny it runs down the sides of the speaker surface.

Once your chosen track is loud enough, the vibrations will make the paint drops jump up, and that’s when you should be ready to fire the shutter. It’s much easier to shoot each paint colour separately, and then merge the shots together afterwards in Photoshop to create the final striking composition.

What you’ll need

Macro lens
A large speaker or subwoofer
Music source
Black bin bags
Colourful paints

Shooting steps


1  Protect the setup Find a flat surface, such as a desk or table that’s near a power source. This is where your speaker will be positioned. Cover the surface with a black bin bag or vinyl sheet so that the bright paint stands out and to stop paint from splashing onto it.


2  Bag the speaker Tape a black bin bag or plastic covering over the front of your speaker, making sure that it’s taut and flat, as you don’t want paint running off the top. Ensure that you cover the speaker even if you don’t intend to use it again, otherwise the paint will seep in and it won’t produce sound.


3  Use a tripod For this shoot, you’ll want to combine several images together in the final edit, so a tripod is essential to keep the composition uniform and the images sharp. Set up your camera and macro lens on a sturdy tripod then adjust its height so it’s level with the top of the speaker.


4  Adjust camera settings Shoot in manual for the greatest control over your results, and set your camera to a high-speed continuous shooting mode. You’ll also need to set a fast shutter speed above around 1/640sec, widening the aperture and increasing the ISO to compensate for the lack of light hitting the sensor.


5  Focus the frame Position an object in place of where the paint will bounce, then use Live View to zoom in and prefocus the frame. Leave the lens on manual focus once you’ve done this. You can then dab on a few different coloured blobs of the paint onto the speaker.


6  Play and shoot Select a track that has enough bass to create some strong vibrations on your speaker or subwoofer. Turn it up when you’re ready to shoot, and fire away several continuous frames. Review these initial shots, and add a larger quantity of paint to the speaker if necessary.

Find the light

Make changes to your setup and achieve high-speed exposures


The success of this project hinges on your ability to shoot at fast shutter speeds of at least 1/640sec, but ideally much higher. The aim is to freeze the movement of the paint splats, and if there’s not enough available light you’ll end up with ghosting and blurry final results. Many photographers have achieved similar results using speedlights, but this is an extra complication you don’t need. You could make the most of daylight by setting up outside and extending the speaker wire so that it reaches your setup. If you don’t have a suitable outside space, try adding in extra illumination from desk lamps, directing the beam where the paint is going to jump.

Editing steps


1  Review your images Delete the frames that have no paint splashes. Select around four or five shots that show paint splashes of differing heights and colours, and open these up in Camera Raw.


2  Boost the levels Move the sliders to increase the Vibrance, Clarity and Highlights, to make the paint colours really pop out of the background. Make uniform adjustments across all the images.


3  Blend together Open the images as separate layers in Photoshop, select them all, then change the blending mode to Lighten. The lightest pixels from each layer will be kept in the image, making the bright paint visible.


4  Final tweaks Merge the layers together and boost the overall vibrancy, or make local adjustments to the image by using the Dodge and Sponge tool on an adjustment layer. Crop and save the final result.

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