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Bouncing Paint High Speed Photography

Updated on July 8, 2014
LuisEGonzalez profile image

I enjoy photography and have been doing so professionally and independently for over 30 years.

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Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0 | Source

Ever seen paint "dance" much less taken a photograph of it? Not many have.

This photographic project which is actually more of a true challenge is not that difficult to accomplish but does require some pre-planing, testing and set up time.

It also requires a totally darkened room, some balloons, flash units, a fast shutter speed, a speaker, paint, a dark to black backdrop and lots of patience.

You have to experiment with some paints to test their viscosity. Tempera or watercolor paint which has been diluted slightly with water usually work well. The method includes draping a rubber balloon over a small speaker.

Adding one or two drops of various color paints or a single color if you so choose on the balloon skin. Once the speaker is turned on and sound starts to emanate from it, the vibrations make the paint drops "jump" up, and that is when you snap the shot.

Other substances do not really lend themselves well for this project mainly because of their viscosity but can be used to perfect the technique, milk or cream are good test substances.

The camera is set to bulb, therefore keeping the shutter open; remember that this is done in a totally darkened room. The flash units are remotely set up to simultaneously fire once the sound starts and since the shutter is already open the camera will record only the brief flash outburst.

The subject should be framed against a black background. This works better because it prevents any distraction from the main point of interest.

Speed is of the utmost importance here and is especially critical if using different colors. Otherwise the colors will mix, which is OK but if you want the colors to record independently of each other fast speeds are a necessity.

I do not use different colors, instead I only use one color at a time. I have found that using different colors proves too difficult a technique to master correctly and will usually end up with great images but with the colors mixed.

To fire the flash units remotely you should use a sound triggered system.The flash units should be placed at 45 degrees angles to the subject and you should have at least two of them. Cannon speed lights are quite good for this. Use a long lens to get in close without endangering your camera from paint splatters.

The time frame from when the paint starts to "jump" to when the shot should be taken is counted in milliseconds, therefore this project must be done by remote controlling the flash units and there is really no other satisfactory alternative.

You can also experiment by using more than one or two drops of paint and record several images but the results rapidly start to degrade as the paint spreads across the balloon skin.

You will need to try several paint consistencies or viscosity to see which one works well for you as well as trying the project before hand minus the camera to see if you are achieving the desired results. If done properly the images are worthy of a fine art gallery and individual artistic prints.

This concept is almost identical to high speed photography where images of shattering glass or objects falling and breaking upon impact is done.

As for the speaker, a cheap 2 amp one should suffice and computer speakers work well too. The skin of the balloon should fit snugly across the speaker with no sags or tears. Place the drops about half an inch space from each other. Set the trigger sensitivity to medium or high, otherwise your movement and small incidental sounds will trigger the flash.

The film or sensor sensitivity should be around 200 ISO, because even though the room is totally darkened you will need a very small pen light to see your way about and a more sensitive film or ISO setting may allow some fogging.

However, it's much easier to set everything ahead of time and once you shut the light offset the camera you are already in position to turn on the speaker.

A tip is to place your hand in front of the lens or a dark cloth and then set the camera to the bulb position while someone turns off the lights. A darkened room is therefore suggested to prevent any stray light from being recorded by the film since the shutter is open prior to the image being recorded.

You will probably have to work on this as I have found this part to be the most difficult.

Here are two articles to making your own: Sound activated DIY project and Sound activated flash triggers.

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Another useful tip is to take as many images as you can once you start the process because keep in mind that the paint will begin to splatter on the balloon and the surrounding space and will be less an less of it with each consecutive bounce.

I have found this to be one of the most entertaining photographic projects which I have ever undertaken and when the images come back from the lab (yes I still use film) I have never been disappointed, but I understood and was totally aware of the fact that from the beginning many trials were going to be needed in order to attain just a handful of usable photos.

Once you get this technique down pat, you can try your hand at high speed photography, which in many instances is easier done than this particular one since a totally darkened room is not a requirement.

Many more photography articles with tips, techniques and project ideas.

© 2011 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Debra Charney: Thank you, you know this one is not that hard to do, but it takes many tries to get it perfect.

    • Debra Charney profile image

      Debra Charney 6 years ago from United States


      You come up with some of the most amazing articles. This one tops them all! Never seen anything like it!

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      agvulpes: Thank you

    • justom profile image

      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      I could not agree with you more Luis. I just need to get all that stuff to disc so I can have some fun with it instead of it all sitting in a box. I brought up the video because that's how Sports Illustrated gets all those unbelievable shots...they cheat :-)

    • agvulpes profile image

      Peter 6 years ago from Australia

      This is a great technique and I must one day give it a try.

      Thanks for sharing with us! I have not shot film now for at least 10 years. How time flies :-)

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Justom: AS much as I think that digital will forever change the world of photography, both for the good & bad, nothing beats the feeling of holding a positive in your hands and viewing through a know a video camera might not be such a bad idea???

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Bob & Randomcreative: Thank you. This technique is really not that hard although patience is the key as well as several trial and error sessions.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Cardisa: Chicken...just try it, even if it doesn't work it's still a fun project to try. Did you get my job hunting suggestion?

    • justom profile image

      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      Luis, you knocked this one out of the park! All great info and results. I'd just use a video camera and Photoshop :-P JUST KIDDING!! Nice work, seriously! ***Still use film huh?

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      The techniques are way beyond me as well, but this is a gorgeous concept.

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 6 years ago from Jamaica

      That bouncing paint thing has to be hard to catch. I am not even going to try this technique. The photos are amazing!

    • Rob Winters profile image

      Rob Winters 6 years ago

      Very interesting stuff Luis. Those images are cool. I've a sister who's into photography so i'll send her a link to this hub. Up & Interesting :-)

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      jill of alltrades & Anaya M. Baker; Thank you for your nice comments

    • Anaya M. Baker profile image

      Anaya M. Baker 6 years ago from North Carolina

      The techniques are way beyond me, but the images are beautiful!

    • jill of alltrades profile image

      jill of alltrades 6 years ago from Philippines

      Wow! This is so amazing Luis! I have been thinking of trying this but have never got around to doing it.

      Thanks very much for sharing!

      Rated up and useful!