Sometimes I’ll say things about a particular photo like “This was a fun photo to take” but those statements often apply to the act of making the image, not necessarily the activity or actions taking place during the scene. That was different here, as the activity was 99% of the enjoyment and the photo was almost an afterthought. Almost.
A few years ago my brother-in-law and I built a water rocket based off some plans that NASA has available, and pretty much anyone with some basic tools and access to a hardware store can construct in an afternoon. I made a few modifications to the launcher mechanism over the years (including the four vertical poles you can see in the image, which serve to guide the rocket straight up instead of shooting outward at kids, cars, or windows. I also use my air compressor instead of a bicycle pump, which makes for a pretty entertaining spectacle when you pull the string to release the rocket.
My kids and I always have a blast (har!) when we get this thing out, and so do any neighborhood kids who happen to be in the area too. The rocket easily goes 100 feet in the air, and since all it takes is a little water and compressed air it can be used over and over. One afternoon this summer we were putzing around (to borrow a phrase from my dad) with the rocket and after several launches I asked my kids if they minded me taking a picture of it, even if it would take several attempts to get it right. They were game for trying, so I got out my D500 and 70-200 f/2.8 lens while we got to work on setting up the rocket.
I found a spot to shoot where the background would be dark, and the sunlight was coming from behind the rocket which I knew would make the water shine and sparkle more than if the light were coming from the front. The tricky part was getting a picture of the rocket at just the right time (like what you see here) which is easier said than done. Once you pull that string the rocket launches so fast you can barely see it, and capturing that instant in time is almost a matter of luck more than anything.
Thankfully the D500 was up to the task: I shot at 10fps and 1/8000 shutter speed (f/2.8, natch) because even 1/4000 was too slow and the bottle looked blurry. It took a few attempts to get this shot but we were all super excited when we looked at the result. It’s amazing to see the texture and contours of the water cascading down the sides of the launch pad, and if you click through to see the high-resolution version on Flickr you can see every tiny detail that you miss when just watching with your eyes.