Hot Water + Sub Zero Temperatures = Pretty Cool Images
On social media, you may have seen posts where someone throws a pot of boiling water into the air on a really cold day and it turns to snow immediately. It’s a pretty neat trick but it’s a lot harder than it looks.
Here in Vermont, it can get pretty cold. It’s not so unusual for our winters but while a lot of people like to stay inside and drink hot cocoa, David Brueckner lives for days when the temperature drops to negative digits. Because that’s perfect weather for getting creative!
Throw Boiling Water in the Air? Why Not?
David wanted to take the idea a step farther. So he thought, hey, let’s do it at sunset. Because that will be beautiful. And let’s do it on Lake Champlain, because it can give you a pretty amazing background. Oh, let’s add some lights. Because it’s going to be dark. And one more thing, let’s add some color to it, just for fun!
To do this properly, David needed several things:
- A flash on a lightstand he could put behind his subject;
- A subject willing to chance getting wet (multiple times) in the freezing cold;
- Several buckets of very hot water;
- A camera to capture the image;
- PocketWizards to trigger it all;
- And Mother Nature to cooperate and give him a clear, cold day with amazing light.
David likes the PlusX radios because they are so simple. Just plug them in, match the Channels, and you’re good to go, then it’s up to Lady Luck and a skilled water throwing subject!
The trouble with a shoot like this is that you don’t get a lot of retakes. David shoots either near sunset or sunrise, so his time window is already super short and at those temperatures, you can’t stand around waiting. You have to be ready to move fast.
How Exactly Do You Make This Work?
David picks a spot on the lake with a great background and makes sure the ice is solid. Because it’s Vermont, the temperatures can vary dramatically and you typically can’t plan a shoot like this very far in advance, usually only a few days or maybe a week, tops. For the water to vaporize, the air temperature has to be at least -10 F (that’s -23 in Celsius!) and the water has to be boiling. Temperatures that cold impact EVERYTHING. David and his model only have a few minutes outside, then they need to bring everything back to the car to warm up. To get about 20 shots, it takes about an hour.
He sets up his lights, making sure the stand is hidden behind the subject and turns everything on. At this point, he has the model grab the cup of water then get into place. Then it’s time to shoot!
They have to work quickly, there’s only enough time for about 5-6 attempts before everyone needs to get back into the car to warm up. Once everyone (and everything) is warm enough, they pop out and shoot again for a few minutes. It takes about an hour to do a full session.
David’s Best Tips and Tricks:
- Biggest tip: Throw the water off to the side, not directly over head! Lindsay tossed the water with the hand that was further from the camera and kept it off the the side as she threw it in an arch.
- Second biggest tip: Light the water from behind the subject.
- Make sure the air temperature is at least -10 if not colder
- Use handwarmers taped to your flashes to help keep the batteries warm. Also, have extra batteries ready and warm in your car. (and keep the car running!)
- The water has to be boiling. Keep it in a thermos and just use a cup/mug at a time.
- Wear gloves (fingerless gloves are perfect for this!).
- Use a wide angle and leave plenty of room overhead to catch the water as it vaporizes.
- Be patient with the shutter release. Wait till the water is spread out so the vapor fills the frame.
- Watch your lighting. As the sun comes up or goes down, you’ll need to adjust the camera settings and maybe switch into (or out of) HyperSync.
- You can get a larger arch and bigger effect by using a larger pan or cup of water but you’ll got through your water supply faster.
David’s looking forward to the next cold snap to shoot more images this year. Check out his Facebook page for updates!
If you decide to try this type of photo shoot:
Be sure to check the ice and make sure it is thick enough to support people and equipment – usually at least 4 inches thick. If you are driving a vehicle out onto the ice, it needs to be at least 8-12″ thick.
Using boiling water can be VERY dangerous, especially for children. It can cause 2nd and 3rd degree burns. If boiling water lands on clothing, the material can retain the heat, extended contact with skin and prolonged contact with heat. This can result in deeper burns.
Please be careful AND safe if you decide to try this. Good luck and let us know how it goes!