DPP Home Profiles Jose Manuel Vidaurre: Making A Splash!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Jose Manuel Vidaurre: Making A Splash!

In mastering the art of stopping liquids in motion, advertising photographer Jose Manuel Vidaurre fills a unique niche

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When Jose Manuel Vidaurre started out creating his signature splash images, he’d spend weeks completing what now takes him a couple of days at most. Back then, he was using film and spending hours in his darkroom. Now, he’s in a state-of-the-art studio loaded with special equipment for doing stop-motion photography. Technology has greatly reduced the time needed to complete each job. By the time a client shows up for the shoot, most of the work is done and the capture is just a click away. A combination of infrared, laser or sound trippers allows Vidaurre to control the moment as much as possible. Since the time he has to get the shot is measured in nanoseconds, the potential for human error is limited by the use of electromechanical systems that feed the pours and splashes.
In Motion
The characteristics of liquids that make them so visually engaging also make them difficult to control. The relative position of the light to the splashing liquid during exposure is always changing.

Vidaurre relies on a sophisticated system of infrared beams and lasers to trigger synchronized cameras and electronic flash units that capture images at speeds as fast as 1/6200 sec.

And because the conditions in which he’s working can be so hit or miss, there’s an inherent element of trial and error in his work. Vidaurre’s willingness to experiment has helped him become adept at solving problems quickly in order to meet the ever-changing visual demands of his clients.

Vidaurre’s early training prepared him for this type of work perfectly. Back in the early 1980s, when the self-taught photographer ditched his electronic engineering studies, he began doing special-effects work with film, mainly in 4x5 and 8x10 large format and occasionally medium format.

His fascination with high-speed still photography led to hours of experimentation with how to stop flowing liquids on camera, allowing him to customize and perfect his technique. Because in those days he had just one shot to get the photograph, Vidaurre set up two cameras side by side, one loaded with transparency film and the other with Polaroid or Fuji instant film, so that he could see how each film sheet was before developing. Much of his time back then was spent in the darkroom doing tedious composite work with high-contrast film.

“I had to learn the hard way,” recalls Vidaurre. “What you got in the 4x5 film was it. Many of the images in my portfolio and website are still from that period of my life. And because of that work, nowadays, I can solve very difficult shots by digital capture and manipulation in a very short time.”

Indeed, an image that used to take two or three weeks to complete now takes a day or two. While the technology Vidaurre uses to execute these images has changed dramatically, his style has remained consistent. The shot of the beer glasses toasting was composed two decades ago, yet it remains one of his favorite images and epitomizes the flavor of his work even today.

Digital Splash
The beer glass toast was the first special-effects shot Vidaurre ever did and the result of two or three weeks of work. To do it, a rail system was built with two carts that basically put the glasses on a collision course toward one another. A sensor on one side of the rail was triggered by one of the carts. Since he didn’t have fast strobes at the time, he shot the image with a combination of Elinchrom power packs and low-speed flash units at 1⁄125 sec. compared to the 1⁄6200 sec. he shoots at today.


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