How I Shot My Famous Paint Explosion Photo

I’ve taken plenty of photos in my time, but very few have inspired as much excitement and curiosity as this one.

The big question, of course, is HOW?

How did I make the paint explode? How did I light the shot? How did I freeze the motion at just the right moment? And how big a mess did I make?

Watch the video to find out. It’s a great lesson in how combining creative thinking with some simple physics (hint: gravity) can lead you to some truly original images that really make a splash.

Anyone for billiards?

People usually assume I used some kind of explosives to make the paint splash up out of the cans. In fact, we used billiard balls!

To get the balls to drop simultaneously and in a controlled fashion, we built a trapdoor-style contraption that enabled us to release the balls exactly when and where we needed to.

The trapdoor contraption

Practice makes perfect

When you’re photographing paint splashes, things get messy fast. That’s why I opted to do some trial runs with water, making sure everything was just right before we filled the cans up with paint.
Taking test shots with water

Getting the light right

As you can see in the lighting diagram below, I set up scrims on either side of the wooden frame, with one speedlight positioned behind each scrim.
Lighting diagram
I also installed a third, much larger scrim, angled in above and behind. Behind this bigger scrim I set up two boom arms, with one speedlight and one studio light on each.

How to Make a Scrim

A scrim is an affordable lighting modifier that you can easily make yourself and use for many different types of photography.

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Speedlights and studio lights

Let's explode some paint!

Once everything was set up, the cans were full of paint and we were all in our Ghostbusters-style overalls, it was time to start shooting.

Paint Explosion

Watch the full shoot from start to finish.
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Photoshoot view from above
We dropped a lot of balls, made a lot of mess, and captured some great shots.
Final paint explosion image

© Karl Taylor

The final image is colourful, eye-catching, intriguing and exciting. It took an awful lot of work to get there, but it was more than worth the trouble.
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