That one time I spent way too much time thinking about a water-based photography assignment…

Hi everyone!I don’t actually subscribe to the Malcolm Gladwell rule:

the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours

Although, I’m not a master at anything, I personally think the key is to continually push yourself, and constantly review to really get good at something. Basically I really like the saying:

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

This is the saying that those training for Ninja Warrior say to themselves and each other all time… I definitely repeat it to myself when I’m running and do not want to run anymore.

Just doing a thing for 10,000 hours isn’t enough… you have to push and review and seek out the lessons to make you better. Otherwise I’d be amazing at sleep, and I am definitely not that.

For that reason, a while ago I entered into a photography competition with the local newspaper that offered money prizes and more importantly, would provide feedback to every entry. The opportunity to be critiqued by professional photographers was way too good to pass up. So I jumped in!


The assignment was…… water. Glad I jumped in… usually.


That was the only directive… any photo that was related to water was eligible, and with my head buzzing with ideas I got started straight away.

Water and nature


My partner came home one day to find me in the backyard, shoving my face deep into her flowers (not a euphemism) while I squirted water at them… to get this:

While this has to be one of the most action packed flower photo ever… there’s way too much going on. The eye doesn’t know where to look.

water-based photography assignment

I slowed things down a little… now the eye is drawn to the yellow bits of flower and the droplet falling… I loved the bright colours, which honestly do seem way brighter when they’re wet.

Water and structures

I really liked the photo above, and was going to submit it as my entry… but a friend at work who had told me about the competition wanted to enter as well… she didn’t know much about photography at all, and wanted to learn so I took her to a water fountain in the city.

I liked how the in focus water looked like ice, frozen in time… but I didn’t think it was special enough, so I started trying to find shapes in the water…

Even though at the time I had my own photography studio, I hadn’t really practised any high speed photography before. I loved all the little droplets going in every direction… but again, it’s all a bit busy.

water-based photography assignment

I thought this one looked like the ugliest fish with a weird eye and a messed up jaw…

… alright, alright, it looks nothing like a fish… calm down.

Water and people

I had a couple of weeks before the competition was due… and while I was pretty sure I was thinking about it way more than anyone else was… I was worried that, while I liked my shots, they wouldn’t really stand out amongst the crowd because they weren’t telling a story.

Photos that evoke an emotion are all telling a story.

So… since I had my own studio and had done a gazillion model shoots, I called in some friends who might be interested in some less-usual shots for their portfolio.

Initially I told them that they’d be shooting water pistols at each other… and I’d be capturing the water hitting them at high speed. Unfortunately, the water pistols I got were way too lame and you couldn’t see the water streams at all. The young lady in the front right is squirting her pistol and you just can’t see it… so I got a bucket…

… and everyone got waaaaaay more wet than they were expecting.

The bucket was super heavy, we filled it with way too much water and everyone got drenched too quickly.

They had spent ages doing their hair and make up and we were ruining it all in seconds.

From a funness point of view, I love this shot… but from a photographic point of view, I hate all these super dark, very contrasty shadows. I had studio lights with us… but what I learnt in that moment was that the studio lights just won’t fire at the shutter speeds I was using to freeze the water in mid air.

This is one of those things that every studio photographer knows… but it just hadn’t come up for me before. I was learning so much!

water-based photography assignment

This was my favourite… we finally got an interesting shape with the water in focus… and the girls look like they were having a great time, even though they were actually freezing cold. The two models at the front are shooting each other with their water pistols if you look super, super closely.

I thought the photo above was pretty good… the water was interesting, the photo looked exciting and emotive… but I just hated those shadows. So I decided to try again on the next cloudy day.

Trying again…

The next cloudy day was also colder… so I asked some different friends so that the above three wouldn’t kill me.

I got some bright coloured buckets… and I was a bit more pedantic on swimsuit colours… two of the first 3 models were too similar colour-wise I thought.

No shadows! The water looks more in focus too… but I still wasn’t able to see the water pistol streams… even though the front two girls are definitely reacting to the coldness of the water in the pistols.

I liked the first photo… but you really couldn’t see anyone’s face properly… so I asked them to face the camera more, even though it didn’t quite make sense at the time. The body language from the girl in the two bikini is that she’s having fun… but she’s also super cold.

water-based photography assignment

This is the shot I submitted… we chucked the water pistols and gave everyone bright buckets… (which I had removed the price tags though). I like this shot… it has drama, you can see everyone’s faces and the water looks wild.

Competition results

In hindsight I wished the buckets were a little smaller… but I was happy with my submission. One thing that I was really excited about is that in this competition, every submission was going to get some feedback. Here’s what I received:


Followed the brief – 18/20
Composition and framing – 17/20
Lighting and exposure – 18/20
Photo engages with the viewer – 18/20
Comment: Nice job! You probably wouldn’t be popular but if you cropped out the girl at the hand on the right at the green bucket you would get a much stronger image. Play with the crop to increase the action.


I cannot for the life of my find the water-based photography assignment competition winners on the internet, but I was really happy with that score. Not too shabby for a dude learning a bunch of new things and making himself (and everyone else, including all the neighbours that could see into our yard) uncomfortable.

I cropped the shot as per the judge’s feedback, and I do agree, it is a stronger shot…

water-based photography assignment

It puts the focus of the entire shot in one place… the splashed girl’s face… which is every sort of amazing.

Thanks for reading my little essay on that one time I entered a water-based photography assignment… let me know if you have any questions or comments below.

I actually don’t have any other photographic posts on my blog, but here is a couple of artistic Pixel art posts:

Pixel art contest – Items of varying size
Pixel Art NFTs – talking to Andielor

AussieNinja

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