Tim Tadder


Tim Tadder started out as a photojournalist for a couple of newspapers and then evolved into a commercial and editorial photographer. He is known for his unique portraits and powerful sports images. Currently he lives and operates from the beautiful small town Encinitas (San Diego area) in Southern California.

On a side note, I read he holds 2 degrees, a BS in Mathematics and a MA in Visual Communication. This confirms one of the views I have on (digital) photography. A great photographer should have or find a balance between the left and right side of his/her brain. The technical aspect of photography can not be ignored (shutter speed, flash exposure, file storage, settings, websites, sensor size, lenses, physics of light, ...) and they require a big part of your analytical 'left' brain. The creative part of photography is what separates you from the masses and allows you to create your own distinct vision and style. This is where the right imaginative 'right' brain proves its value.

The picture

Tim Tadder - water wigs


According to an interview he did on this project, titled 'Water Wigs', Tim grew tired of doing the same thing when it came to making portraits. One of the benefits of doing high paid commercial and editorial work is that you sometimes have the time and financial means to try something new and creative. So he came up with the crazy idea of letting water balloons, filled with water, explode on the heads of bald models. By doing this, the goal was to create the illusion of hair of headwear (hat, scarf, ...). Cool concept when you read it like that, but how do you do it?


If you want to freeze action, you enter the world of high speed photography. There are a couple of ways of doing this and it depends on the equipment and look you are after. In this particular case Tim chose to do the following:

  • Use a completely dark room, meaning absolutely no ambient light, when taking the actual pictures.
  • Set the camera to bulb mode so that the sensor would only register the flash exposure. Bulb opens up the shutter and lets you choose when to close it again. As long as the flash exposure happens within this timeframe, the image is captured and you do not have to worry about shutter delay (synching the shutter with the exact moment the flash fires).  
  • Use a low power setting for the flashgun(s), so that the flash duration is as short as possible. He needed 1/10.000 of a second to freeze the moment of the water balloons exploding.
  • Use color gels on the flash heads to add the vibrant colors in the photo.
  • Use a flash trigger to capture the exact moment of explosion. Tim first used a laser trigger, aimed at the head of the model. When the balloon hit the laser, the flash gun was triggered. We are talking about milliseconds here and it resulted in unreliable final results. Sometimes the flash would fire while the balloon was still wrapping the head and before it actually exploded. To fix this problem, he switched to an audio trigger that would react to the sound of the balloon exploding. To be sure the sound was loud enough, he amplified it by strategically placing a microphone on the set. 
  • Trial and error. This type of experimental photography is an adventure for both the photographer and the model. Although the models were the ones that got soaking wet on a consistent basis :-).

Behind the scenes video