How to Photograph Ice Cubes Splashing into a Glass of Water

You have a glass full of water. Now, ice cubes are dropped from a height into the glass. You as the photographer have to make an image precisely at the moment when the ice cubes make a splash. How difficult can it be? Well, to tell you the truth, the idea is simpler than its execution. You could toil at it for a few hours, get frustrated, and then come back to this tutorial. Or you can check out this tutorial straight away and have fun with the shoot:

Jay P Morgan is at it again. This time it’s a glass full of water with ice cubes and my favorite bit—splashes! But before you jump at trying your hand, this is what you need to know.

Lighting the Glass

The hardest thing to do is light the glass. Front lighting is never going to be enough. You need to light it in a way so that the light shines through the glass from behind. Your main light should be behind the glass and not in front of it. This diagram should help:

shooting ice-cubes dropping in water

Initial Lighting Setup

The principle is quite simple. The glass you’re shooting is a curved object. Just like any other curved transparent object, it’s going to see a lot of the background transmitting light in the process. If you light a small area at the background, a small part of the glass will be illuminated. You’ll notice dark lines on both the right and left of the glass.

how to photograph falling ice-cubes

A ten degree grid on the background light lets in a small amount of light.

On the other hand, if you light up a broad section of the background, that is going to light up the entire glass. The dark lines will become smaller. There is no right or wrong in having or not having dark lines. It depends on what you want to achieve.

studio lighting tutorial for glass

With a sixty degree grid the background light is a bit more prominent.

Lighting the Ice

With the above lighting setup, regardless of the area you light up behind the glass, you’re not going to have enough light on the ice. To address this problem, Morgan brings in two additional lights. Not softboxes, but diffuser panels (PhotoFlex Medium LitePanel), which are just as useful and consumes less space.

Use of diffuser panels

PhotoFlex Diffuser Panel

These diffuser panels are set up at an angle behind the glass on either side. This pushes those edge lines a little further back.

lighting setup tips for photographing water splash

Final Lighting Setup

Triggering the Shutter

The final peg in the wheel is the MIOPS trigger. This is a laser trigger that can trigger the shutter release at the precise moment you want it to. So much better than having to manually trigger your camera shutter. You can set it at different trigger delays. It all depends on what height you’re dropping the ice cubes from, as well as the effect that you need.


One thing that Morgan struggled with and you might find a bit challenging is nailing the focus. It’s transparent glass remember? So, while you think you’re focusing at the front edge of the glass, your camera could be focusing at the back edge. To sort this problem out, Morgan used a stick about a third of the way back and focused on that.

photographing a glass with ice

“Lighting glass is not so much about the light you put on the glass as it is the light you see through the glass.”

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