I’m always on the lookout for gadgets and in this case a camera gadget, specifically one that would allow me to experiment with different kinds of photography like high speed, lighting, sound, and motion.
The Pluto Trigger fit the bill and has 24 modes. For 120 dollars and another 45 dollars for the water valve kit (optional), it was time to play.
I ordered mine from Amazon like I do a lot of things, and it arrived fairly quickly. Neatly packaged it seemed delicate and diminutive at first, but once I laid everything out and gave it a whirl I was pretty satisfied.
This trigger has multiple modes, but to be honest I don’t think I will use the shutter release, HDR and a couple of others. What really got my attention and fascinated me was capturing water drops colliding with each other, which is why I opted to get the water valve kit as well.
I have yet to try the sound and motion activated aspects and have plans for those. The next good lightning storm I will be able to use this from the safety of my car or cover, a big plus.
So as to have some baseline, this is a water drop photograph I took with a single off-camera flash and no trigger. I just let the drops fall and captured them with a wireless camera remote, guessing when each would hit.
I ended up taking a couple of hundred pictures to get some I was satisfied with.
My critique would be it’s a bit underexposed, and the depth of field (DOF) could be greater. The DOF was affected by having my focus point too forward, and a lens with a shallow DOF (I was using a macro tube early on). A second flash may have helped with exposure and blurring.
This image was shot the same way and typical of a single flash set up without a trigger to time collisions. Milk for opacity and blue food dye were used.
So…WHATS IN THE BOX?
Neatly packaged are a mini USB cable, Hot Shoe Adapter, a Laser Pointer, the Trigger, a USB Charger and, a PC Sync Cable
- Aux port
- USB charging port
- Camera/flash port
- Status LED
- Sound sensor
- Charging LED
- Shutter button
- Light/laser sensor
- Infrared sensor
- Infrared remote
The trigger is light and has a 1/4 screw hole on the bottom where it can be attached to a mini tabletop tripod as I did. I found this easier to keep the IR in the front pointed correctly at my camera.
I’d suggest charging it to full charge with the mini USB Charger included. A green light indicates it is 100 % charged. If you are not going to using it right away, a switch on the back allows you to turn it off.
THE WATER VALVE KIT
The Pluto Valve makes it possible to capture these abstract water drop collisions, although there was a bit of a learning curve. First, the instructions which are on the App and online were not very clear where to connect the RC cable that came with the kit.
The port is rather small and inconspicuous which is why it took me some time to figure out where to connect it. In the illustration above I marked this for you in red.
The other end of the included cable connects to the Accessory Port on the Pluto Trigger.
The valve has a 12V 23 A battery that is included. There is a small switch on top of the electronic board of the valve to turn it off and on. To conserve battery turn it off if not being used. I haven’t had any problems with the battery discharging quickly, but keep a back up just in case you are in the middle of shooting and it dies.
To fill the valve, simply remove the stopper on top which is vented by a six inch or so 1/4 inch tube that runs through the stopper. This is to keep pressure in the valve. Keep the water above the level of this tube so there is no air that can escape. If the water level goes below the tube you will see an inconsistency of your drops as the valve loses pressure.
SETTING EVERYTHING UP
Your Phone App will communicate with the Pluto Trigger and operate the shutter on your camera. To do this tap the spinner in the upper right of the screen.
Make sure your camera is set up in remote control mode in settings.
Once connected, the Pluto Trigger’s blue LED will blink once and the app will make a notification sound.
Navigate back to the main screen. The spinner will have been replaced by a battery icon. This battery icon indicates the remaining battery on your Pluto Trigger and that you are connected.
Place the camera in Manual Mode. The shutter speed should be 1-2 seconds. Start with 1 second, and if your first few shots seem underexposed increase your exposure.
Remember, the flash is going to freeze the drops, not your shutter speed.
Set the ISO from 100-800 depending on your test images exposures. Start with a low ISO.
If you are using a single flash, this will be controlled by the Pluto Trigger.
Have your flash unit in manual mode and reduce the power output to 1/16. This will usually freeze the drops, but you can decrease to 1/32 if you notice blur and you can still get a good exposure with the lower flash output.
The position of the flash can either be directed at your background and bounce the light back to your drop, or angle it to the side of your dish, perpendicular to the camera. Mine are usually placed about 8-12 inches, more or less from the impact of the drop.
If you are adding a second or subsequent flash, place them in Slave Mode so that they fire at the same time as your primary flash. You will need to power down that flash to 1/16 as well but you can still adjust it if needed.
Adding a flash to each side of your dish, perpendicular or bouncing both off your background are suggested. Experiment and you may find a position of each flash that works for you.
To connect your speedlight to the pluto trigger you will need the PC Sync cord. If your Speedlights are like mine, there is no Speedlight PC Cable port. To remedy this I ordered a Flash Hot Shoe Sync Adapter with Extra PC Sync Port . This attached to the Nikon SB 600 Speedlight Hot Shoe, then I affixed the adapter to my Speedlight stand.
You can also order these directly from the Pluto Trigger website.
The PC Sync Cable is connected to the Camera Port on the side of the trigger (an Icon of a camera makes it a bit easier not to confuse with the Aux Port).
** Ensure the Pluto Trigger is turned on, the IR Remote on the front is pointed at your camera AND your camera is set for remote control in settings.
Testing Set Up
Take a few test shots before any water drops to make sure your Speedlights(s) are firing as they are supposed to.
Finishing Set Up With the Valve Kit
Once you have determined your Speedlight(s) are communicating with the trigger, it’s time to set up the valve. The valve is most easily and securely held by a mechanical arm attached to a tripod.
Suspend the Water Valve Kit about 18 inches from the valve tip to the dish.
The RC cable is connected to the side of the valve kit and the other end connected to the Aux Port on the Pluto Trigger. The “ON” and “OFF” switch is clearly marked on the valve.
Fill the valve as previously discussed and firmly attached. I’d avoid trying to fill it while attached to the clamp as you may spill liquid on other electronics.
THE PLUTO TRIGGER APP
The App should be on your phone and when you start it you will see a spinner icon in the upper right-hand corner. Tap the spinner icon.
When it connects to the trigger you will hear a notification and see a battery icon in place of the spinner icon.
Scroll to Water Drop Photography in the menu.
**Make sure the Pluto Trigger is charged and turned on.
Turn your valve kit on at this time using the switch on top marked to “On”.
Once you have connected to the Pluto Trigger, your camera, trigger, water valve kit, and flashes all need to be on. You can turn all of these on before you connect to the trigger without problems.
The App starts with adjusting the first drop setting. The goal is to capture a photo of the first drop as it recoils back up out of the water at its maximum height.
Initially set drop size to 10, and release of drop interval to 5 milliseconds.
The App will control the valve to release a drop every 5 milliseconds, taking a photo each time while increasing the flash delay.
Preview your images on the LCD screen until you see the drop at its maximum height.
Once you determine it is at its maximum height, stop increasing the flash delay (e.g 350 milliseconds).
For the second drop, you will go to the next menu which is directly below drop one and start the same process again only this time until you see drop 2 collide with drop 1.
There is another menu to release a third drop which can make some very unique abstract drops.
In general, if your first drop flash delay is say 350 milliseconds, the second drop delay may be around 100 milliseconds and the third may be 40 milliseconds. This is not hard and fast but in general as viscosity and temperature of the liquid as well as the height released from make it impossible to use the exact settings for every session.
Red and Blue flash gels were used to create the colors. The liquid from the water was made a bit more viscous using Xanthum gum giving the drops a more stringy and glistening appearance.
In post, I make all my fine adjustments such as exposure, camera calibration and so on. To make these images pop I increase the contrast, clarity, color, and vibrancy. If there is noise, do some noise reduction and a bit of sharpening.
If you haven’t already read my post “The Art of Water Drop Photography” please do so as this is the primer to getting started. There you will find all the other finer details such as how to achieve focus, lens suggestions, mixtures and additives.
As always, be creative and have fun!