You may have come across the headshot I have been using for a while on social media by now. The one with water splashing all out of my brain... How did I do that? Did I use Photoshop?

The answer is no (at least not for the water splashing part). And in case you wondered whether I got wet in the process, let me reasssure you. I got completely soaked - for every single image!

I will explain in this post here what it felt like and how those images were made.

First of all, when I am in front of the camera I have difficulties pressing the trigger. In addition to that, you can imagine that a water balloon exploding (because this is a water balloon full of water), chances are that I will not be fast enough to press the shutter at the perfect time. And regardless how much I like getting soaked in [cold] water, I like - if at all possible - to minimize the number of re-takes.

Hence I needed an option to make the water spread in a predictable and repeatable way.

This is where my engineering background comes in.

Would you happen to have a hairdryer for me?
Untitled photo

I decided to build a small electronic circuit based on an Arduino Uno. This circuit has a microphone and will listen for a sound pulse, like the noise of a balloon exploding, for instance.

The microphone is the small component in the foreground of the image here.

With that in place, I am ready to pop a balloon. Once armed, the circuit will detected the noise of the balloon exploding. It waits a few milliseconds and then triggering my flashes.

All of this happens in total darkness in our backyard at night. The the shutter remains open and my camera will capture with detail that exact moment when the flashes freeze the water splashing after it has spread just the right distance.

Now this theory should of course be validated by experience. Hence I try it first on a balloon full of of air, followed by another one filled with water. Once I have figured out the process and the timing, I am ready to try on myslef.

Untitled photo
microphone at 15", delay=0

After I captured my headshot, I was ready to proceed with a real model. At which point I asked Robbie Janno to pose for me, which he did with courage and determination. I must admit that it was only in the middle of the photo shoot, when he started to shiver, that I identified a little deficiency in my process: I filled the balloons from the garden hose. I should have been using warm water from the kitchen instead!

Well, there is always something to improve for my next subject.

And here is my liquid gallery with more such images.

behind the scenes (c) 2013 JC Dill. All other images (c) 2013 Eric Raeber

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