Throwing Jelly at Our Obsession With Beauty

We all love to see a beautiful model get slapped in the face with jelly. But why? And why did I decide to do an epic photoshoot to prove it?

Here’s why: to explore our complicated relationship with beauty and perfection.

As a photographer, I’m a self-confessed perfectionist. When I’m working on an image, I’m not satisfied until every tiny detail looks exactly the way I want it to.

That kind of perfectionism is all well and good when we’re talking about the art of photography. But when it comes to our own physical appearance, it’s more problematic.

Every day, we’re bombarded with images of gorgeous models and influencers on social media. These images make us feel desire, but also envy. They may even make us feel bad about ourselves, even though we know the perfection they portray is totally unrealistic.


From beautiful to a faceful of jelly

The perils of perfectionism

Presenting misleadingly polished versions of ourselves and our lives has become normal. But our modern obsession with beauty and perfection comes with troubling consequences.

With the toll this obsession takes on all of us (and particularly young people) becoming clearer every day, I began to dream up a concept for a fashion photoshoot that would reveal some truths about our relationship with beauty, and poke fun at perfectionism.

And when I say poke fun, I mean throw jelly.


Tristan looked very sharp... until he didn't

So how did I get from this crazy concept to the fantastic final images? A lot of planning, a lot of hard work – and A LOT of jelly.

A plan so crazy, it just might work

When we sat down to plan the shoot, we quickly saw that the biggest challenge would be launching the jelly consistently, over and over again.

The first step to overcoming this problem was designing, building and testing a catapult. Our resident catapult-builder (and creative director) Tim got to work, and we soon had a functioning prototype to play with.

Tim building the catapult

Tim designed and built the catapult from scratch 

Tim built the catapult to be adjustable. That gave us a crucial element of control over how high and how far the jelly bombs would fly.

The next step was figuring out how to make jelly with just the right texture and consistency to remain intact as it flew through the air. In other words, it needed to be sturdy – but not too sturdy. Why? Because for the shots to work, the jelly needed to break apart at the moment of impact.

Emma got busy experimenting. Hundreds of packets of jelly and thousands of litres of boiling water later, she had found what appeared to be the perfect formula.

Making batches of jelly

Emma made hundreds of batches of jelly to find the right consistency 

Now it was time to test, test, and test again.

Getting technical

To get the shots I was looking for, I needed to capture the precise moment of impact for each jelly slap. To make things even more complicated, I was shooting with my medium-format Hasselblad H6, so capturing multiple frames in a rapid burst wasn’t an option.

With this in mind, I decided to use a laser trigger to activate the shutter.

Lighting the shot

Screengrab from the full-length class

We set it up so that when the arm of the catapult swung upwards, it passed through the laser beam and activated the trigger. Then, through lots of trial and error, we worked out the precise delay needed to activated the shutter at just the right moment.

Also essential to the process was super-fast flash duration. This enabled me to capture crystal-clear images of the jelly bombs frozen right at the moment of explosion.  

Once various members of the team had taken jelly to the face and I was confident I could get the shots I wanted, we booked in the two models, ordered their outfits, scheduled the makeup artist, and started building up to the big day.

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Ready for the jelly

On the day of the shoot, we started bright and early, setting up the camera, laser trigger, lights, modifiers, reflectors and the rest. We also set up a screen to catch the jelly shrapnel and laid down clear tarps to protect the studio floor.

Things were about to get extremely messy, after all.

Next it was time to get models Cat and Tristan made-up, into costume, and into character. Their instructions were to play the role of sharp, arrogant, aloof models – too cool for school!

Makeup artist applying eyeliner

Makeup artist Chloe preparing Cat for the shoot

Once they were ready to roll, there was nothing left to do but start slinging jelly.

Let the slinging begin

When I’d first interviewed Cat and Tristan, I’d explained exactly what I planned to do and made sure they knew what they were signing up for. But it was still great to see them both smiling after their first jelly splat.
Male model smilingFemale model smiling

There were smiles all round once the jelly started flying

And those first splats really were the first of many. After each sequence of jelly shots, the team had to hastily clean up the model who’d just been hit while the other one got into position, ready for their next try.

As you’ll notice in the video, the difference in height between Tristan and Cat was pretty significant. (Tristan is taller than most, to be fair.) That meant adjusting the catapult for each shot to make sure the jelly landed where we needed it to every time.

Wide angle shot of studio from above

All hands on deck

Once we got into a rhythm, the shoot went as smoothly as we could have hoped. Everyone had a blast – though cleaning up all that jelly was a bit of a mission. Cat and Tristan were absolute troopers, and the whole VE team worked incredibly hard to get the very best results we could.

And the results really were explosive.

Female model hit with jelly
Female model hit with jelly
Male model hit with jelly
Male model hit with jelly

More, more, more!

Want to see more?

To watch the full-length video detailing every aspect of the shoot – concept, planning, lighting, camera settings, flash duration, laser trigger settings, and more — check out Fast-Flash Jelly Headshots here on Visual Education.

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