Backsplash on a Budget: Jaroslav Wieczorkiewicz' Water Angel

The best compliment I can give to a photo is to think of it as a "stopper," meaning that it absolutely demands your full attention when you first see it.

A couple weeks ago I made a quick trip to London to serve as a lighting consultant on a very cool photo project (more on that later). While there, I worked alongside Polish photographer Jaroslav Wieczorkiewicz -- not even realizing at first that he had been the one who shot the last "stopper" I had seen.

And even better, he did it with a minimum of gear and buckets full of creativity.

Water Angel

Jarek has already earned a reputation as someone who is very comfortable photographing liquids frozen in mid-air. That said, he stresses that liquids are a technique rather than a genre.

His signature is conceptual photos, and he is generally willing to do and/or learn whatever he needs to pull a concept off. But it all begins with an idea.

He is always at work on one sort of personal project or another. "You are waking up one day, and you have this in your mind…" he said. But turning a vision into a photo, that is the trick.

"All my photos are starting with an idea, in your head or in your heart," he notes, "and then it works backwards from there."

To be sure, working backwards from his mental image of a water angel would give him (and his assistants) plenty of problems to solve. He had previously worked with milk, frozen in time and morphed into high fashion. But water is a different animal.

"It's always difficult when you work with liquid," he said. "Especially with water against a black backdrop."

Water acts as a lens, collecting and focusing the highlights. So the 'tail' of anything but the fastest flash duration will show up as pronounced streaks in the fast-moving drops.

To solve his flash duration problems, Jarek turned to the relatively inexpensive Paul Buff Einstein Monoblocs.The IGBT circuitry architecture of the Einsteins means it can be configured for insanely fast pulse durations. And from previous experience, Jarek knew he would need a pulse in the neighborhood of 1/10,000th of a second. So that became his first and most important variable.

Fortunately, one of the many layers of information the Einstein provides on the back of the flash is a display of the actual duration of the pulse at the current power setting. And at 1/16th power in "Action" mode, he could see that the Einstein would deliver a pop of 1/10,417 of a second.

As for the lighting, you can see how simple it was in the diagram above. He shot with two Einsteins, each in a large soft box. One was front camera right, the other back camera left.

The second variable was image quality. Jarek shot the photo with a Nikon 50/1.4 on a D300. So image quality from the aging, 12MP camera meant using the lowest possible ISO. By shooting it in sections, the pieces combined to make an image of 10,000 pixels on the long side.

It's like PhaseOne on the cheap. You gotta admire that.

The third variable was depth of field. On a 50, you need a little aperture to hold focus through the model and wings. Jarek considered himself to be cutting this one close at f/7. If he wanted f/8, he'd have to either power up the Einsteins (sacrificing pulse duration) or crank the ISO (sacrificing quality). In the end, f/7 gave him just enough depth of field.

As a bonus, most lenses are at their sharpest near the middle of the aperture ring. So Jarek also squeezed the last little bit of quality out of his normal prime.

Get It In-Camera

Jarek shot the photos in a darkened room, to keep the ambient from undoing all of the effort he had spent to avoid ghosting the water droplets with the flashes.

The splashes in the final image are surprisingly close to having been done in-camera. He tweaked the feathered edges with the appropriately named "Liquify filter" in Photoshop, but that's about it.

"Nothing is painted in Photoshop," he insists. "It is all photographs."

"If you can throw something very carefully," he said, "it is better to do that and work two hours more on the set rather than working in post production. Because you can always spot the fake."

All of the images were shot in the same studio setting, with the same lighting. So it was "pretty basic" to just layer them on top of each other in post, he noted.

Originally from Wloclawek, Poland, Jarek now works in London as an architect.

Dividing his time between photography and architecture works out very well, he says. Designing buildings is a long process, sometimes taking years between idea and creative payoff. Photography is relatively instant gratification, which keeps him inspired.

As if he needed more inspiration on this project, it was written -- or at least drawn -- on the wall. When he originally got the idea, he "quickly sketched this little angel onto the architectural drawing," he said. (See above.)

Later, while he was waiting on the Einsteins to arrive, Jarek took a trip to the flower market with his fiancee. He noticed where someone had drawn a set of wings on the wall, at a height where they could serve as a backdrop for a portrait.

"I said to my fiancee, 'I don't need any more signs!'" he remembers, "I just need to shoot that thing!"

Following the shoot and post production, the completed image went live on his blog on a Friday evening. It quickly made the rounds on photo message boards. By Monday morning he had already received an email from Paul Buff, saying that the photo was "very interesting" and that he would "like to chat."

It wasn't long before the photo was getting prominent display as a print ad for the Einstein flashes.

Prediction: If Paul Buff is smart (and Paul is very smart) this won't be the last time you see Jarek showing off the Einsteins in an advertisement.

You can see more of Jarek's amazing work at the ArumLight blog. The original BTS post on the Water Angel is here. But he is also up to some larger scale conceptual work [NSFW-nudity].

Lastly, if you are in Australia and would like to spend two days with Jarek in an intense, hands-on liquid-shooting workshop, you are in luck. He has two scheduled in November.


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Blogger Mr. Green said...

Nicely done, although I wish the model didn't have such a "processed" look. He definitely deserves the attention he is getting. The water dress idea was apart of a fairly well shoe campaign featuring gisele bundchen

October 24, 2011 2:32 AM  
Blogger Pinpoint Photo said...

This has inspired me in a way that hasn't happened in a long time.

What an amazing concept and the detail behind the shoot only expanded what I know.

Thanks Dave!

October 24, 2011 3:16 AM  
Blogger Seul said...


I'm fairly new to flash and tried to freeze a kid jumping into the pool with my new LP 160, but failed tremendously – How would I freeze movement with a flash (of course not to a degree of water angels) when I can't go above 1/250th?


October 24, 2011 3:22 AM  
Blogger Will said...

Awesome images, since Paul Buff is available in the UK now, i'd defo like to get just one head {maybe an Einstein) to compliment my speedlight arsenal.

Do you think that would be a good way to go, having one portable high power studio head for whenever i need to combat the sun ? The Einstein's have a portable battery pack dont they ?

October 24, 2011 5:22 AM  
Blogger Dave Tease said...

Thanks for this Dave, just had a little look at the course, and on impulse, I'm $490.00 lighter,haha..

October 24, 2011 6:04 AM  
Blogger budrowilson said...

Amazing. The image was very well conceived and perfectly executed. It's great when "personal work" pays off.

October 24, 2011 10:08 AM  
Blogger lechroy said...

A well done job and a article that celebrates its nature. Thanks David, and Jarek, a fellow Pole, for your work. I love the fact that while many of us are chasing better gear, Jarek is chasing new ways to utilize what he has on hand. Brilliant show stopper and a great photo. Victorias Secret should be jealous.

October 24, 2011 10:10 AM  
OpenID lechn said...

PS - I love the concept drawing on the landscaping project. Very cool.

October 24, 2011 10:12 AM  
Blogger Willie said...

Thanks for this article.
One question; What do you mean by:
"By shooting it in sections, the pieces combined to make an image of 10,000 pixels on the long side"?
Could you please explain the technique?

October 24, 2011 11:30 AM  
Blogger Samy FRANCOIS said...

awesome and the all process look very efficient. I would love to try something like that outside.
Since I'm not commenting often, good job for all those articles, they really are inspirational.

October 24, 2011 12:49 PM  
Blogger Griffin Jackson said...

Beautiful images. I actually am a big fan of the chalk wings on the brick wall. Something beautiful about it.

October 24, 2011 1:01 PM  
Blogger didymus said...

@Willie: Looks to me that the two wing images were combined, overlapping a bit. He makes it look so easy... lol. Fantastic work!

October 24, 2011 1:25 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

How synch the D300 with Einsteins at 1/10,000 s ?

October 24, 2011 2:59 PM  
Blogger Wing Tang Wong said...

Awesome post, I have been admiring his work on 500px for a while now and had wondered how he had achieved that look. Just amazing and mind bogglingly straightforward concept!

October 24, 2011 2:59 PM  
Blogger Victoria Mason Photography said...

a Russian photographer Andrej Razoomovsky has been doing that for several years now.

October 24, 2011 3:32 PM  
Blogger Joe Rudin said...

Freezing action with a strobe has more to do with your aperature and flash power/duration than shutter speed. Because a strobe's flash duration is so short, it can freeze action IF it is the primarily the only thing lighting your subject. In other words, kill the ambient lighting. Do this by using a fast shutter speed, low ISO, and smallaperature (could be anywhere from f/8 to f/22 depending on how much ambient there is).
Have you ever been to a dance where they had a strobe light going? It looks like people's movements are frozen because the pulses of light are so brief. Turn on the regular lights though, and the effect is gone, because the ambient is too high, you have something else lighting the scene. Depending on what you are trying to light though, you may need either a bigger flash, or more than one flash to light your scene.

October 24, 2011 3:46 PM  
OpenID f0ab7710-fe78-11e0-ab3a-000f20980440 said...


You decrease aperture and iso (and maybe add neutral density or polarizing filters) until it's pitch black at 1/250 with no flash. Easy in a studio, trickier but not impossible in the field.

October 24, 2011 3:47 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

This is fantastic, excellent shots and very inspiring!!

October 24, 2011 4:05 PM  
Blogger dath1974 said...

Having done this once myself, heavily inspired by Jaroslav and a couple others who have some similar work, I will say that he makes it sound much easier than I found it to be. Shooting the images (at least for me) was fairly straight forward if you have someone skilled at flinging water (don't laugh, it does take some practice to get interesting shapes). I found the post processing to be very challenging though and a bit more than just a simple series of composites.

I would estimate it took me between 40-60 hours of post and basically three complete restarts after not getting the results I wanted (which is partly why it took so long). In the end, I think it was a good first effort on my part, but I could learn a lot from someone like Jaroslav and I really wish I lived closer. In the mean while I'll just have to keep at it as I'm sure it will only get easier:->

My finished shot is here:

-Daniel S. Thom

October 24, 2011 4:11 PM  
Blogger Mats said...

Attended Jareks workshop this summer, was wicked fun, he's a very inspiring and enthusiastic fella :)

October 24, 2011 4:15 PM  
Blogger Rory said...

Excellent post (as usual) Unfortunately the final pic (which ultimately it is all about) looks like some crappy 3d render :( IMVHO

October 24, 2011 6:58 PM  
Blogger Chad G said...

Great post today, have a new read in my blogroll now.


October 24, 2011 9:27 PM  
OpenID blogwerks said...

Wonderful creativity. Seeing how other people are able to leverage their creativity and available equipment and produce incredible images like this encourages me to continue. Thanks David and Jarek!

October 25, 2011 12:48 AM  
OpenID ryuheiedo said...

Wow, Mr. Green has a point. The processing is to the point that the model looks like a 3d model. Other than than that everything is amazing. Nice work on a very well accomplished commercial shot!

October 25, 2011 2:18 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi David, is it possible to enable social sharing of your blogs? (i.e., facebook, google+, etc)

October 26, 2011 12:37 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


I do not back social media buttons into the template of each post, mostly just trying to draw a line on clutter. Lots of people grab the URL and share that way, tho.


October 26, 2011 11:38 AM  
Blogger pawdidi said...

Now I wonder whose milk was first? Andrejs or Jareks? Andrej photos look much better, not so processed. If If needed to paint with light... and milk - I would go to his workshops. Props for Jarek - he's skillfully maintaining the hype about his skills ;)

October 26, 2011 7:20 PM  
Blogger Blake Irvine said...

David (or others), could you explain a bit "On a 50, you need a little aperture to hold focus through the model and wings." Why is this? Relative to what, an 85mm or a 24mm? I ask because I took some "studio shots" at f8 and I only had about 6" of sharp DOF. Thanks! -Blake

October 26, 2011 8:32 PM  
Blogger who_is_kk said...

Amazing artistry!

October 28, 2011 1:11 PM  
Blogger Seul said...

Thanks Joe Rudin and f0ab7710-fe78-11e0-ab3a-000f20980440 for your kind advice!

October 31, 2011 4:07 PM  
Blogger Doug ( Dougie ) Fresh said...

Wow ...such an idea warmer ...I'm so afraid of water near my equipment ...

November 05, 2011 3:14 AM  
Blogger my3demise said...

what i still don't understand is how he gets his models to stay so still. I would think any movement on the model's part would make the post a nightmare. any suggestions?

December 18, 2011 8:47 AM  
Blogger migacz112 said...

Incredible!Incredible!Incredible! I am sooo happy to see a photo "from Poland" bacause I am from Poland too. Greetings from Poland, Bart.

January 18, 2012 3:30 PM  
Blogger Tim Denison said...

If he's using CyberSyncs as the ad claims, doesn't that mean the flash window has to be 1/2500 of a second, since "its extremely low delay of 1/4000 second allows sync speeds as short as 1/2500 second on compatible cameras. It will not, however, support High Speed Sync (HSS/FP)" - from the Cyber Commander features section. (

So he set the Einstein to 1/10000 of a second burst, but was he shooting at 1/2500 himself? Or was he wired in to the Einsteins and not using the Cyber Commander? Any thoughts?

March 28, 2012 6:59 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

Shutter/sync doesn't matter. He was in a dark room. It is all about flash duration.

March 28, 2012 7:10 PM  

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