Photographing a Portrait in your Bath Tub

Submerged Me


Today I was playing with getting wet  (again)! This time I was working on the 52frames Week 4 2021 challenge on the subject of water.

VISION:   To create an interesting watery portrait ,  a woman submerged in dark water.  



• Large piece of Black Fabric 

• A Bathtub

• A Camera with off-camera flash capability

• A speedlite with modifier, light stand & automatic trigger.

• A boom arm on your light stand will be useful if you have one.


• A tripod

• A remote trigger in a waterproof bag 

• A remote Camera-control device like a Camranger, for reviewing results on a handheld device without having to get out of the bath.

• A bunch of towels nearby!!

Outtake Showing moving water droplets sharply caught in motion.

Submerged Me Outake

Background theory to freezing water in motion using a speedlite instead of shutter speed.

To achieve a nice crisp, sharp rendition of moving water, it is necessary to capture the motion as quickly as possible so that it does not blur. The faster the shutter speed (the shorter the amount of time the shutter is open), the sharper the in-motion elements will appear on the resulting image.

When you reach 1/1000th of a second shutter speed, you should begin to to see moving water droplets captured as distinct shapes instead of blurs.

The caveat is that the shorter the shutter speed, the more light you need to expose the image, and the amount of light needed to achieve a fast shutter speed is not insignificant. Think outside – in bright sunshine. 

However, there is another trick you can utilize to achieve the freeze motion effect and this is a solution that conversely requires scant light in your environment, reason being you are going to use a speedlite as a stand-in for your shutter speed. 

When a flash fires it bursts a temporary amount of light out into the world.  It requires time to ramp up and down, so the more light that is fired by the flash, the longer it temporarily exists in the world. The beauty of a speedlite is that it is not very powerful so the light it emits has a shorter existence in time. Using a speedlite at a power of 1/16th or less can therefore be the equivalent of using a fast shutter speed.

Here is a useful page that compares flash durations of several strobes and speedlites at various power levels. According to their chart, the speedlite I used (Canon 600 EX-RT),  set at 1/32 -1/3, would have been the equivalent to shooting with a shutter speed of somewhere between approximately a 6300th and 8600th of a second.  This is how I managed to capture sharp, instead of blurry, water.



1.  Line the bathtub with a black sheet or piece of fabric or backdrop. If your bathroom is naturally dark, that's a good thing, Avoid switching on your artificial lights because they might create unwanted reflections. 

2. If attempting a self portrait, set the camera up over the bathtub using a tripod. I managed to do this by wedging the tripod into position using differing leg lengths and angles. My tripod allows me to flip the central post upside down so that the camera can be nestled underneath the legs. If shooting another person you may be able to get away with performing acrobats over the bathtub to get the desired angle. A ladder or chair might help - be careful not to slip!

3. Choose a lens that works in your bathroom space to capture the head and shoulders of your subject. I used  a 24-70mm lens  set to a 35mm distance.

4. Position the lens so that it is angled above the eye line looking down, rather than below the chin and looking up. This will achieve more flattering results. 

5. Set up the the speedlite and modifier (I used a small Octabox) so it is  behind and above the head, as close as you can get it. I used a boom arm to help me achieve this light position.  My goal was to achieve lighting similar to if I was creating an upright portrait in a studio setting  – with catch lights in the top of the eyes.

6. Do a dry run before you add the water to make sure the lighting is as you would expect. Set your flash power to 1/16th or less. Your shutter speed choice will be restricted to something in the region of 1/100th simply by the fact you have mounted a flash to your camera. (Remember, this is OK, because the duration of the flash will be much shorter thereby exposing the scene for a briefer period in time.)

7. Once you are happy fill the bathtub with warm water, check you have a sharp focus on your eye and start capturing your portraits.

8. Making movement, ripples and splashes in the water will help break up the reflection of your speedlite modifier and create more interesting effects.

My settings for this project:

1/100 sec at f4

ISO 100


Flash: 1/32 -1/3

Timelapse: Behind the Scenes video capturing water portraits:

Straight out of Camera version

Submerged SOOC


This is where you can get creative and edit to your personal taste. I was going for an aqua vibe to reiterate a watery feeling.

I made two color graded versions of the original in Lightroom and then layered them in Photoshop using a graduated  "blend if" limiting the influence of the second, more skin-toned  image to the brighter areas. 

I then played with the color balance further to adjust the skin tones. 

I also cleaned up a couple of pimples, stray hairs and a bright spot on my clothing that was drawing too much attention. 

A + B = C

Untitled photo

There were some interesting results, so it wasn't so easy choosing the final candidate. Below you'll see  some other out takes from the session. (These have Lightroom color treatments but have not been edited in Photoshop). 

The Outtakes

  • Submerged Me Outtakes 2
  • Submerged Me Outtakes 6
  • Submerged Me Outtakes 9
  • Submerged Me Outtakes 8
  • Submerged Me Outtakes 5
  • Submerged Me Outtakes 4
  • Submerged Me Outtakes 7
  • Submerged Me Outtakes 3

Thanks for reading this blog post. Let me know if you try this technique, if you have any questions, or if there is another fun technique you'd like me to explore in a future blog post!

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