By far one of the messiest shoots I do, a paint toss shoot is tons of fun and relatively easy to set up. I have done this type of shoot before and I learn something new each time I do them. In this post, I will describe the equipment, positioning, and the camera settings I prefer.
First, the obvious. This is a MESSY shoot! I usually spend about an hour before the shoot hanging plastic from the walls and covering the floor with plastic as well. In addition to miles of plastic sheets, I also use a small kid’s swimming pool to try and collect the majority of the paint thrown at the model. I then line a pathway from the shoot location to a shower with plastic as well. The paint itself is a washable tempera finger paint. I purchase the paint at a local school supply store. For this type of shoot, I usually purchase the paint in gallon sizes although they do have smaller sizes available. I dilute each gallon with 50% water giving me two gallons per color. I have found that one gallon will give me roughly 10 images. Keep in mind there is paint being thrown at the model on both sides. If you toss paint from just one direction, two gallons should yield roughly twice as many images. Other equipment I use includes:
Nikon D7100 (Still images)
Nikon 50mm 1.8G Lens
Yongnuo YN560-TX Flash Trigger
Yongnuo YN 560 III Flash (x3)
43” Reflective Umbrella
Olympus OM-D E-M10 (Video)
White Seamless Paper
The location of the shoot was in a two car garage. Since I do not own a studio, this is my go-to location for these types of shoots. Although I do have a background stand and I used that to hang the white seamless paper, it could have just as easily been hung on the inside of the garage doors. I used two pieces of 53” wide seamless paper from a roll side-by-side to a length of about 5 feet each – just enough to have a decent white background behind the model, waist up.
I then placed two Yongnuo flashes on light stands on either side of the seamless paper with large homemade reflectors (white foam board) on the side of the flash facing the camera. The whole point of the flash is to blow out the white seamless paper for a pure white background. Both flashes were set at 1/8 power. The main light was another Yongnuo flash placed in a reflective umbrella at about 45 degrees to the camera-right side of the model and about 45 degrees above the model aiming down. The power of this flash varied between 1/8 to 1/4 power depending on how far it was placed away from the model.
Since this is a shoot where I wanted to freeze the paint mid-air and any splashes on the models, the light from the flashes are controlling my exposure. In other words, I set my camera to settings that when a picture was taken without any of the flashes triggering, I had a fairly dark, if not completely dark, image. It is important to NOT set your flash power too high as this will create a longer flash duration which can create motion blur with the fast moving paint. I would not set these flashes above 1/4 power if you intend to ‘freeze’ action. With that in mind, I set my power on the flashes facing the background first and adjusted my camera accordingly.
I then set my shutter speed slightly over my sync speed. Actually I set it quite a bit slower than I normally do for flash photography. For this shoot, I set my shutter speed to 1/60th of a second. Keep in mind, the flashes are creating the exposure and not necessarily the shutter speed. Typically for flash work I set my camera to 1/200th of a second. After setting my shutter speed, I took test pictures of the background with only the two side flashes firing. The main flash was turned off. I was simply trying to see what ISO would give me the best/white background. I always start at ISO 100 and increase from there. For this particular shoot, I opened my aperture to F8. With the Nikon D7100, I can set my playback screen to show me when portions of the image has no data (is blown out white or completely black). I started to achieve a good white background at ISO 250 - significantly lower than my previous shoot. After setting my camera for a nice white background, I then have the model stand where she will be standing for the shoot and take test pictures adjusting the reflective umbrella flash for a correct exposure on the model.
Once the lighting is done, it’s splash time! The hardest part of this shoot is having the throwers toss the paint so that it hits the model at the same time from opposite directions. Keep an eye on the paint and press the remote shutter at the ‘right moment’. Ha! If there is such a thing. IMPORTANT: Make sure you switch your lens/camera to manual focus after getting the proper focus during test shots. If you leave the camera in auto-focus mode, your camera will hunt for focus, even if slightly, when you press the remote trigger. This slight delay can make you miss the perfect moment. Manual focus only!!!
Besides the complete mess this shoot creates, this is an incredibly fun project both during the shoot and in post processing. Much of what I have explained above can be seen in the video. I will be doing another shoot like this eventually only because I have so much fun with them. So, go buy a lot of plastic, a couple of gallons of colorful finger paint, find a few brave and willing models, and have a blast. As always, get out of your comfort zone and have fun experimenting. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Keep the interesting parts of life in focus.