I just got my beginner DSLR (Nikon D3300) and tried to take a photo of a water splash.

I read about aperture, ISO and shutter speed and I know if I set high shutter speed I need to set low aperture (higher number), also I need to set higher ISO.
I set 1/500 shutter speed, ISO about 800 but the photo is still dark.

What do I need to do to achieve this?
[Sorry for my English.]

  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you referring to this type of photo: iso.500px.com/how-to-get-started-in-water-drop-photography ? \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Jan 9, 2018 at 18:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/6598/… \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Jan 9, 2018 at 18:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please see: petapixel.com/2018/01/09/… \$\endgroup\$
    – chili555
    Jan 9, 2018 at 19:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ 'I need to set low aperture (higher number)'. I think you mean large aperture, but then you need a low number. f/22 is very small, and f/2.8 is quite big. \$\endgroup\$
    – Orbit
    Jan 9, 2018 at 20:11
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @czan The point of the answers and comments is we can not tell you what setting to set your camera at because we do not how much light is in your scene. Use a fast enough shutter speed in shutter priority mode and meter the scene to find out what the aperture needs to be in order to achieve a properly exposed photo. You may need to adjust your ISO up until you get an aperture (fstop) that is gives you the depth of field you want. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alaska Man
    Jan 11, 2018 at 4:27

4 Answers 4


Czan, I suggest you read up on how a correct exposure is made. It's not a simple "set your camera to x" type of thing. To boil it down, there is an amount of light in a scene, and the proper capturing of that light requires you to set an ISO, shutter speed, and aperture and to understand the constraints that each of these has on the exposure as a whole.

But, to get you started in photographing water drops...

You want to freeze the action of the drop as it bounces off the surface of the liquid. In order to do this, you want to light the scene 100% with flash. (let's keep this easy and not introduce mixed lighting)

In order not to mix ambient lighting with flash lighting, you need to make sure that the ambient light is low. Leave enough light for you to move around in the room, but not much more.

Most of these types of photos are shot with off camera flash where the flash is set to a certain power. ISO is usually set to 100. Aperture is set for the depth of field that the photographer wants. This could be f/2 or f/16. It depends. But, to get you started, try using f/5.6 or f/8.

Now, the tricky part. Shutter speed. The fastest your camera will allow with 100% flash lighting is called the flash sync speed - and it's 1/200 of a second. This is perfectly fine to freeze a water drop.

However, using 1/200 will require you to time the shot far too accurately. You'll have to press the shutter release, the camera will have to drop the mirror, open the shutter, trigger the flash...all while you hope to capture a drop in air.

Instead, you are better off using Bulb mode. Bulb allows you to manually open and close the shutter, on your count. (keep in mind that we still want to avoid ambient lighting, so keep it short). But, the method here is: Trigger a Bulb exposure. This drops the mirror and opens the shutter - now the camera is just waiting for the flash to pop to expose the scene.

Drop your water droplet and manually trigger the flash when you want. The timing is extremely hard - but using this method, you only have to worry about when to pop the flash, as opposed to when to start the sequence of events listed above.

As soon as the flash has popped, stop the exposure. If you're working alone, you will need a remote shutter release. If you don't have one, you can try using a ~3 to 6 second exposure and hustling to do the rest.

You are using 100% flash here to light the scene. So, if it's too bright, decrease your flash power. If it's too dark, increase your flash power. If you've hit the limit on your flash power in either direction, you will have to either open the aperture (let in more flash) or close it (let in less flash). (You could also put diffusers in front of the flash to scatter and absorb some light if the flash is too bright [like a piece of paper] but keep in mind that this will greatly alter your lighting, for good or bad)

Here's a great article on more ways to light and expose these scenes.

Edit to add:

If you don't have a flash and can't follow the advice above, then you need to light the scene with as much light as you can. Get every lamp in the house. You need a shutter speed that is fast, 1/200 or faster. Set the aperture to obtain the depth of field that you want and get the ISO as low as you can, ideally, 100.

Again, I can't tell you exactly what settings to use because they are dependent on how much light you can add to the scene. Ideally, you would want ISO 100 with an aperture between f/2.8 and 11 (depends on the depth of field that you want) and a shutter speed at least 1/200.

As for timing, you'll need to fire the shot to capture the drop at exactly the right time. Look into "Mirror Lockup". This will allow you to set up the shot, lock the mirror up, and then trigger the exposure exactly when you want to. Again, a tripod and shutter release cable are invaluable here.

Trigger the mirror lock up, drop your water, and then trigger the exposure. Rinse and repeat.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Excellent answer, but I don't think 1/200s is fast enough if using ambient light. I would expect motion blur at that speed. Also, I have never heard of using mirror lockup with a fast shutter, as it is typically used to reduce camera shake during long exposures. What benefit would come from using it in this scenario? \$\endgroup\$
    – Robin
    Jan 10, 2018 at 17:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Robin, water drops are notoriously hard to capture - things occur very quickly. The camera having to drop the mirror adds a little bit of lag to the whole process. One could work around it - but why? Using MLU allows you to negate this little bit of lag so that, hopefully, your timing can be just a little more accurate. \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Jan 10, 2018 at 18:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Robin, fair enough on the shutter. I've only ever shot water drops with flash and have no experience with ambient only. Perhaps 1/500 would be a better answer? \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Jan 10, 2018 at 18:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ I haven't shot them either, but based on shooting motion in sports, those would be my expectations. Does the MLU actually shorten the process though, and by how much if it does? I'm not challenging your statement, I'm just curious as to whether this makes any real difference at all (not that there is any harm in doing it anyway). \$\endgroup\$
    – Robin
    Jan 11, 2018 at 15:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Robin. see photo.stackexchange.com/questions/95801/… \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Jan 11, 2018 at 16:08

I read about aperture, ISO and shutter speed and I know if I set high shutter speed I need to set low aperture (higher number)

You've got this part backward. You want a large aperture, and the size of the aperture increases as the f-number decreases. So, if you're increasing the shutter speed, you can compensate by decreasing the f-number for the aperture setting.

also I need to set higher ISO

ISO is just another option for changing exposure -- you don't necessarily need to change it unless you're out of other options. For example: lets say you get a good exposure with your camera set to 1/125s (shutter), f/4, and ISO 400. If you want a faster shutter speed so that you can stop motion, you set the shutter two stops faster, to 1/500s. 1/500 of a second is only one fourth as long as 1/125s, so it only lets in a quarter of the light that you'd get at 1/125s. To compensate, you can use an aperture that's four times larger, which means changing the f-number two stops from f/4 to f/2. Or, you can make the sensor four times more sensitive by increasing the ISO two stops, from ISO 400 to ISO 1600. Or, you can do a little of each: go down only one stop in f-number, to f-2.8, and up one stop in ISO, to ISO 800.

I set 1/500 shutter speed, ISO about 800 but the photo is still dark.

Somehow, you need to fix the exposure. You can use a larger aperture (smaller f-number), or increase the ISO further, or turn on some more lights in the room, or add light with a flash.

Using a flash is the best option for water splash photos for a few reasons:

  1. the duration of a flash is very very short, so you can use it to stop motion
  2. a flash can provide a LOT of light, or just a bit, depending on how you set it and how far away it is, so you get a lot of control
  3. flash lets you put the light where you want it

First requirement is Use Your flash. A camera flash is called a speedlight because at lower power levels, it can be extremely faster than any possible shutter speed. Plus it can light a f/16 macro situation, and it can override any existing ambient.

Water drops imply macro situations, up close to see it large. That means you have to stop the lens down greatly, at least to f/16 to have any depth of field at all. So you use enough flash power so that f/16 works. That also means the flash overwhelms the ambient light, so it does not need to be dark. Only dim, perhaps even normal room lighting, just "not bright", not as bright as the flash.

Shutter speed is what lets in more ambient, so to keep it out, set shutter speed to the cameras maximum sync speed, very likely to be 1/200 second. And 1/200 second at f/16 (manual exposure) will not expose much ambient (so it need not be darker than just "not bright"). Try one picture indoors at 1/200 f/16 ISO 100 with no flash just to see that it certainly is insufficient exposure of ambient.

But you surely need a larger camera flash than just the camera internal flash. The internal flash probably has a guide number of about 40 (feet, ISO 100). That means f/16 has a range of 40/16 or 2.5 feet. HOWEVER, that assumes maximum power level which will Not be fast enough. So you need a larger speedlight flash (any regular size hot shoe flash) which lets you lower the power level to perhaps 1/32 power, at perhaps 2 feet from the water drop. Possibly you may need ISO 200 or 400, but absolutely not more (more just lets in the ambient). And at 1/32 power, the speedlight duration is probably about 1/20,000 second to freeze the splash. This is how high speed flash photography is done. Speedlights, lower power levels, up close.

See http://www.scantips.com/speed.html for this concept of speed, and concept that dark is not required.


Water splash photos are typically done with off camera lighting, with settings on camera that won't pick up ambient light. Your shutter speed is really only relevant to eliminate that light, and often a long exposure is used in a relatively dark room.

The freezing of the splash action is done by triggering the lights at the right moment instead of the shutter, so only the instant the lights are on is picked up by the sensor.

Edit: I would like to add that when using a flash, lower power = shorter flash duration. I am not sure what duration you need to freeze a water drop, but I would guess 1/500s or faster.

For example - Canon 580 EXII

  • Full power has a flash duration of 1/285 of a second
  • 1/2 power has a flash duration of 1/1400 of a second
  • 1/32 power has a flash duration of 1/7500 of a second

So you can see from these values, that you would need the flash at 1/2 power or less to get the desired effect (assuming my assumption about the 1/500s is correct).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Okay,so what do you think my shutter speed and other shoud be set to? \$\endgroup\$
    – Czan
    Jan 9, 2018 at 18:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ There is a maximum synchronization speed for your camera and flash. Check the manual. It's usually around 1/200. Some flashes and cameras have a mode for faster synch but try the normal mode first and see how it goes. \$\endgroup\$
    – user16259
    Jan 9, 2018 at 19:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for answering,you didn't have to bother so much writing it all down.I just watched video on yt and now i get it.I tought i can shoot it just with setting the iso aperture and shutter speed.Saw photographers using speedlight.Need to get that.Anyway thank you so much. \$\endgroup\$
    – Czan
    Jan 9, 2018 at 19:32
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Czan, you are welcome. But, I also do it for the kids. I like the idea of having this site as a resource for years of future photographers. Welcome to the community btw. If you are satisfied with an answer to your questions, don't forget to select it. If an answer doesn't meet your needs, add comments and clarification until an answer does. This way, we all benefit from your question and the answers provided. Cheers, \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Jan 9, 2018 at 19:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ One doesn't need to use a fast shutter speed when using 100% flash exposure. The only thing you need to overcome is accidentally including ambient light - which, in a controlled environment, is easy enough to do without having to resort to fast shutters. Also, keep in mind the sync speed for his camera is 1/200 and, I believe, rarely goes over 1/250 (for most cameras). \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Jan 10, 2018 at 18:28

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.