Earlier this month I had the chance to do some special effects product photography for ioSafe. As a company who makes fireproof, waterproof and generally near indestructible hard drives they needed some shots that showcased how truly rugged their latest ioSafe N2 NAS drives actually were.

Enter Von Wong.

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I think you will feel my pain. I begged my wife to let me use her laptop to catalog a bunch of magic tricks I had received from my cousin who died suddenly. She reluctantly agreed. As I was going through the boxes of stuff, put them on my lab, with the computer, and then list them and put them into another box. Unbeknownst to me, one of the items was a very powerful magnet.

You see where this is going, huh?

I set it on the laptop, right over the hard drive and not only toasted the hard drive, but the mother board as well. All the work I had done. All her files. All the kids school files. She had to replace her
whole computer. She has still not let me forget that moment.

I could really use some joy in my life. :)

– That nifty device to control the camera from the iPad? That was the CamRanger.

The goal:

The goal of the shoot was to produce images featuring the ioSafe N2 in all of it’s glory highlighting its waterproof and fireproof abilities. To do this we had two set of shots planned out – a simpler one where the drive would be dropped into an aquarium, and a more complicated one that would feature the hard drive in all of its glory bathing in a symphony of flames and water.

The challenges:

The first challenge was to make sure that the ioSafe N2 – which, photographically speaking, was essentially a big black rectangle look good. In general, when lighting a rectangle, it is important to light it up in such a way that you see the depth, width and height of the drive. This meant that we would have to focus on the reflections on the sides and edges to give it structure, shape and form.

When shooting in the aquarium, we had the additional concern of making sure that we wouldn’t be stuck with any god-awful reflections – this meant that all the lighting would have to come from the sides or top of the fish bowl. We would also have to make sure that we had enough fish in the right position to make the composition of the final shot interesting but still believable.

When shooting with the flamethrower, we would have to match the lighting from the fire, with the lighting from the strobes. Select a shutter speed that would be appropriate to freeze the movement in the flames, while worrying about flash sync speed and flash duration since those would impact the waterdrops.

Finally, in all cases, the logo had to be clean, visible and readable.

Setup#1 – The Aquarium

How it was done:

For the aquarium shot, the procedure was relatively straight forward:

  • Be sure to light the aquarium from the side to minimize reflections
  • Shoot using a remote trigger to not move the camera and capture the fish in a variety of different positions. In my case, I converted my PocketWizard Plus III into a remote trigger using a 10 pin motor drive cord**note: though we had initially planned on using a polarizer, lighting placement took care of the reflections so I didn’t bother.From that point forward, it was just click & blend in photoshop.

    The lighting setup:

    Iosafe by VonWong1

    VON 8547 Edit1

    Nikon D800E | 70-200mm f2.8 | 1/125th sec at f6.3, ISO 100 | PocketWizard Plus III |Elinchrom Ranger Quadra

    Setup#2 – Flamethrower, fire & water

    Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home.

    Building the set:


    We chose to do the shoot in a parking garage that would have both adequate ventilation and nothing nearby that would get damaged by either the water that we would be tossing around nor the fire from our homemade flamethrower.


    Since we wanted to have a flame that we could do over and over, having somebody spit fire wasn’t going to be the most efficient or controllable solution. We needed something that would be able to perform consistently over and over again. This is where the idea to create a homemade flamethrower came in.

    While touring through Europe a couple months back, my favorite pyrotechnician DAS had shown me a little trick on how to convert a Chemical Sprayer into a flamethrower.

    The result? Controllable fireballs. Perfect.

    Breaking the shots down:

    Part 1: Just Fire

    As with any technically complex shoot, it’s always best to split the elements up before trying to combine them together. In this case, we had two very different effects we wanted to blend together: Fire & Water.

    For any of you who have looked at my previous posts on how to shoot with fire, you’ll remember that shooting fire means that we need a high shutter-speed to be able to freeze the explosion. 1/1000th of a second was the best shutter speed for this flame.

    1/250th is the standard flash sync speed so I had to grab up my Pocketwizard Flex TT5 to be able to shoot at the desired shutter speed using HSS/FP sync. For those of you who don’t know what what HSS/FP is, it essentially makes the flashes “pulse” multiple times so that you can shoot at a higher shutter speed. To read more on it, you can click here.

    Since fire is pretty much translucent, the light coming from the strobes simply passed through the flames lighting up the hard drive without interfering with the exposure of the flame which made this shot a simple balancing act of finding the optimal power settings from the flash to match the exposure of the flames.

    VON 1197 Edit

    Nikon D800E | 70-200mm f2.8 | 1/1000th sec at f8.0, ISO 100 | Flex TT5

    Part 2: Just Water

    In my mind, water would be the simpler of the two elements. I already had some dramatic edge lighting coming in from the sides to light up my hard drive so I knew that making the water visible against a black backdrop wasn’t going to be a problem.

    A couple issues did come up though while shooting. I noticed two things:

    1. Water, unlike fire actually had a mass… which meant that although it was transparent, it also did cast some potentially distracting shadows against my hard drive.

    2. HSS/FP was not good at freezing motion. This meant that even though I was shooting at 1/1000th of a second, I wasn’t going to get the frozen water droplets that I was looking for.

    Example: Though the shot below is pretty, the water is blurry.

    VON 1229 Edit

    Nikon D800E | 70-200mm f2.8 | 1/1000th sec at f8.0, ISO 100 | Flex TT5

    If I was only shooting water, this wouldn’t be a problem – Dial down the power of the speedlights (speedlights have a shorter flash duration at lower power), shoot at 1/250th of a second – Bang. Instant sharp waterdrops.

    Unfortunately though, since we wanted to combine this with fire which requires a fast shutter speed and is in itself it’s own light source, that wouldn’t be possible.

    So what was the solution? Sacrifice the exposure of the flame or get blurry water droplets?

    The answer? Neither. Keep reading to find out ^^

    Part 3: Combining Fire & Water

    Q: What’s the worst that can happen when shooting with over 1/250th of a second?
    A: you get black bars on the top and bottom of your image. As your shutter speed goes higher, that bar of light gets thinner and thinner but at least, you get the proper flash duration that you’re looking for.

    Since Fire is in as of itself a light source… why not let the fire wrap around the hard drive while framing the shot so that the flash only lit the logo?

    Look closely at the shot below and notice the “line” that appears to create a nice highlight over the logo. By leaving the strobe bare, as opposed to with a CTO gel, we managed to get a very interesting two toned image without needing to sacrifice the droplets of water or the texture of the flames.

    VON 1287 Edit

    Nikon D800E | 70-200mm f2.8 | 1/800th sec at f7.1, ISO 100 | Flex TT5

    Take a closer look:

    Cutoff 1250th

    Although I had gotten some pretty nice results from the last image, I felt that the shot could be improved by having an even higher shutter speed to make sure that the water droplets would be completely frozen. To compensate for the now even thinner “bar” of light crossing the shot, I now had to step back even farther from the hard drive to make sure that the beam would be large enough to illuminate the logo. Thankfully the Nikon D800E had ample megapixels to accommodate that.

    I also felt that it might be a good idea to toss on a CTO gel onto my strobe so that the entire image would make the “bar of light” slightly less obvious.

    A couple more tosses later:

    VON 1370 Edit1
    Nikon D800E | 70-200mm f2.8 | 1/3200th sec at f7.1, ISO 400 | Flex TT5

    After studying the images on my ipad, I found that the CTO gel made the hard drive blend in a little bit too much with the rest of the background so I finally removed it and went back to the original gel-less setup figuring that I could fix the colour cast of the water in postproduction.

    Finally, after trying over and over to get the perfect shot, we managed to capture this beauty:

    VON 1360 Edit

    Nikon D800E | 70-200mm f2.8 | 1/3200th sec at f7.1, ISO 400 | Flex TT5

    And for those curious to see the before/after of colouring with photoshop:

    Lightroom 5 Catalog lrcat Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Library1

    In Conclusion:

    I like to break down photoshoots like math problems – solving problems one step at a time. Taking a complex problem and breaking it down into multiple smaller problems makes them easier to deal with. Technology is fun, but unless you understand it, you’ll find yourself limited by it more than anything else.

    Elements that could have made this shoot easier:
    – A PhaseOne with a V-grip Air + some Profoto B-3s so that I could shoot at 1/1500th of a sync speed.
    – Slower flash heads such as the Elinchrom S-Heads (which I now have!) and combine that with PocketWizard’s Hypersync.

    Cool pictures! What exactly is the ioSafe N2 anyways?

    The ioSafe N2 is a fireproof (over a 1000 degrees) and waterproof (10 ft of water over 30 days), NAS/RAID storage device perfect for a private cloud powered by Synology.

    For the moment I use it as a limitless 4 TB cloud server from which I can access as I travel. Services like Dropbox and the others are great but they provided limited amount of storage so it’s definitely a plus to have terabytes of it safely stored on an indestructible drive somewhere.

    There’s also definitely some comfort in knowing where the files are physically and being in control of them!

    Finally, these N2s also come with up to 5000$ of data recovery loss. That’s not the gimmicky software recovery, it’s the actual “thousands of dollars” physical recovery which you pray will never happen to you.

    I do plan on doing a full review of the N2 in the near future, so stay tuned! 🙂

    And finally… the giveaway!

    Iosafe rugged portable hard drive copy
    I’ve asked the kind folks over at ioSAFE if they would be so kind as to give my followers a gift and they’ve volunteered to give a 500GB Rugged Portable Drive to someone who has suffered a spectacular hard drive failure in the past.

    To enter, simply share your worst hard drive failure experience in the comments down below and share this post with your friends for a chance to win.

    Some simple stats of the drive (read more here):

  • Crush protection up to 5,000 lbs.
  • Drop protection up to 20′
  • Immersion protection up to 30′ for 3 days
  • USB 3.0 and USB 2.0, FireWire 800
  • Data Recovery Service up to $5,000On top of that, it’s apparently…bulletproof. Check out this durability test.


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    Special Gear used:

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  • Lucas

    Amazing! Do you mind revealing what you used as fuel in the chemical sprayer?

  • I’ve once lost a school project and all my photography. The school project i was working on for about 10 hours and all the photos were from the last two years with my first own camera… Probably one of the worst days ever.

  • I’ve once lost a school project and all my photography. The school project i was working on for about 10 hours and all the photos were from the last two years with my first own camera… Probably one of the worst days ever.