March 20th, 2010
Photography Tutorial: Aramis Cologne Splash
aramis cologne ad splashing water


This weeks tutorial is another challenging shot, a shot I consider to be much more challenging than last weeks. The final result is a mock advertisement for Aramis cologne, a very old school cologne from 1965 which is still being sold. My dad recently gave me a bottle of it as a birthday present. So what did I decide to do with it? Of course - photograph it! The finished product is pictured below, complete with the colognes real tag line inserted, "The Impact Never Fades".

Before You Begin

Before you try doing any kind of photo like this, there a few things you want to make sure you have on hand, or are capable of doing - otherwise you could end up wasting a lot of your time.

  • Space! This is probably always a requirement for everything I shoot. Be sure you have a cleared place to work in that is at least 7 feet long by 7 feet wide, and 8 feet high. This particular shot uses a LOT of grip gear, so you'd be wise to find a space much larger than the bar minimum - crawling around light stands sucks; I know because I had to shoot this in a 7x7x8 foot space.... Photographer beware!

  • This is a wet set - so treat it with respect. Anything running off of AC power should be plugged into a GFCI protected outlet. Common GFCI outlets in homes would be anything in a bathroom, kitchen, or located outside. If you don't have any nearby, you can buy short little pig tail extension cables with GFCI boxes built into them, like this.

  • Grip gear - LOTS OF IT. I used 7 stands total, but it is possible you could need 8, I got away with a lucky clamp light cheat, so one stand had two purposes. You might not be so lucky, so plan on using at least 8, if you have softboxes and lots of room, you could actually use less. There's always a few ways to rig any given shot! You will need at least one gobo arm, and spring loaded clamp. I suggest having several clamps handy.

  • Sturdy camera tripod - absolute must.

  • Softboxes or white reflectors. I went the reflector route and used typical sized white foam boards you can get at any craft store, or even staples. Two should do fine, though I actually used 3.

  • 3 flashes - All flashes must be capable of high speed sync with your camera! There are a few ways to get around this, and I actually used a few. More details about that later. At least one flash should be zoomable (ie. "Speedlight").

  • Flash sync cables with splitter if needed.

  • Black duvetyne flag, 3x2 1/2 feet is sufficient in size. This will actually be in the photo, so make sure its in good condition.

  • A decent pro level DSLR. Why? Flash sync terminal - thats the main reason why.

  • A decently long focal length lens. I used an 85mm 1.4 Nikon lens.

  • Some kind of fish tank or other receptacle with high walls that won't leak water.

  • Big sponge.

  • Pitcher of water.

  • A cologne bottle - duh! I highly recommend using a splash bottle version of the cologne if the bottle is clear, or its aftershave companion bottle (I did the later). Why? Simple, that little stem inside the cologne bottle just doesn't look very great. If your bottle isn't clear, no need to worry.

  • Photoshop, or some other comparable program.

  • Patience!

Set Rigging

The rigging for this shot is fairly simple and straight forward, except there's a twist, a 180 degree twist that is... This entire photo is shot *UPSIDE DOWN*. You read that correctly. It's not a typo, I swear! More on this later...

Begin with setting up your black flag first, make sure its high enough up to be in your cameras line of sight. A few feet in front of that, rig a stand with a long gobo arm at a 90 degree angle. Place your water catching receptacle underneath this gobo arm. A few more feet in front of the gobo arm setup, rig your camera tripod.

Now for this whole upside down business....

Why upside down? There's a few reasons for this. The main reason is the annoying little air bubble inside the cologne bottle. It looks horrible! Unless you wanna buy two bottles of the stuff and make sure one is filled to the max, this is a great way to save money. The second reason, its a GREAT way to fake a water splash were the bottle appears to be forcing itself up and out of a body of water. See. I'm not crazy after all. More on this fake water splash business later...

Take one of your spring loaded clamps, and "hang" your bottle from the gobo arm upside down. I recommend using "A clamps" that are fairly small and fit snugly around the gobo arm while still securely holding the cologne bottle. Below is a picture of this "madness".

Notice how the air bubble is now at the bottom of the bottle...


A key thing to remember when shooting anything that is glass is that your not really "lighting it", your creating surfaces for it to reflect - thus the need for either big softboxes or reflectors. Flashes with modeling lights could come in very handy here, but I was able to manage without them. I had two reflectors to the front left of the bottle that formed a 45 degree angle, and another reflector behind the bottles right side. Both of these reflectors had Adorama AC master slave flashes firing at them, full power. The background "glow" was created using a Nikon SB-800 speedlite, which was zoomed in all the way, and set to light the background up just below the brightness of the foreground.

All the flashes used to light this shot up were hard wired, there's several technical reasons for this. When your working with a lot of reflectors, using optical slave triggering can go awry very fast with flashes firing out of sync. There is also another issue dealing with high speed sync on my D700 and the Adorama flashes. In a nutshell the only way I can go past 1/320 a second shutter speed and still get the flashes to expose the frame requires all of them to be hard wired. To do this I used a three way splitter off the D700's PC sync terminal. My shutterspeed was 1/650 during shooting, which caused about 75% of the frame to be non-exposed since the flashes can't properly sync past 1/320 with the camera. NOTE: My speedlite *can* sync at high speed, but only in remote mode! It's kind of ridiculous :(

Last but not least, make sure you're lighting is intense enough too not only support a high shutter speed, but also a deep f/stop. The reason for this is simple, it keeps more of the splashing water in sharp focus. I shot mine at f/9 and was pretty happy with the results. My final lighting setup is pictured below, underexposed on purpose to emphasize the three light sources.


Shooting this image is simple in concept, but you need to be very careful on set when doing it. Basically soak your sponge in water, then fire off an exposure while you squeeze out the water all over the upside down bottle, but like I said, you need to be careful about this... Pictured below is the basic concept in action.

In order to create that "perfect" splash shot, you actually need to fire off multiple shots, and composite the best parts of them into one seamless shot. I recommend dowsing the bottle first, then firing off a non splash shot, then proceed to shoot several splashes, and then another non splash shot. Keep in mind you want the bottle to move as little as possible, otherwise this won't work very well in post! I recommend the longer lens earlier because of the splashing that occurs, it can help keep your lens nice and dry if you can back the camera up more.

Post Production

You will need to isolate at least two shots to composite, how many you need, or even can composite will vary quite a bit depending on how your captures came out. The one shot everyone will mostly likely need is the non splash shot. This shot is important because it's the shot that clearly shows the bottles label. In many splashes, you'll find that the bottles label can become obscured by water or you can see it, but the optics of the water rushing over it distort it badly and mess with the lighting. Once you're shots are chosen, batch process them in camera RAW for best results. Pictured below are the three shots I selected for compositing, post camera RAW processing.

Once your files are opened in Photoshop, you can now nest all of them into one composition and begin compositing the best parts together. This is really one big jig saw puzzle, and its hard to get specific here since everyone will have a unique situation to work with. I do however have some tips to help you along the way.

  • Make good use of semi transparent layers. This can help you see what your erasing on one layer, and what you're going to revel from the layer underneath.

  • Feathering is your friend! Make sure you brush is super soft, most of the time, this is the best option to use.

  • When you erase, keep on erasing until things just fit. For example, my bottle label didn't look "right" lighting wise until I had erased quite a bit of the layer on top.

  • Be prepared to make compromises!

Pictured below are my chosen shots after I erased what I didn't want to keep, then finally combined into one single shot. They are presented in a "top down" order.

Full composite.

After compositing, I duplicated the layer, desaturated it, then blended it with the color original using hard light mode. This process really brings out the contrast, but also desaturates a bit, so I used an adjustment layer to re-saturate just the yellows and reds. After some clone tool and healing brush work to clean up some of the stray splashes I didn't like, and inserting the the Aramis tag line, I was finished!

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! Feel free to comment below. If you are in need of a photographer for a commercial assignment, contact me here.

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  • rainie mills Says:
    July 1, 2017 at 05:00am

    Your images are not showing up on these posts? I'd love to see the photos to go with your tutorials.

  • Leonardo Says:
    September 6, 2017 at 04:36am

    Your images are not showing up on these posts? I'd love to see the photos to go with your tutorials.

  • Ruben Says:
    October 26, 2017 at 06:06pm

    Too bad that the images are not visible, that makes this tutorial pretty useless which is a pitty, since I really liked the upside down approach and would like to see how it was done.

  • Chris Says:
    January 8, 2018 at 08:39am

    Image links got messed up when transferring my site away from Squarespace. They are fixed! Thanks guys!