Photographing Water Droplets

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Most of us do not pay any attention to a water droplet falling on a glass of water or any other liquid. But photographers will tell you that if you were able to freeze the action and see just how exactly the water drop interacts with the surface once it strikes it and you can begin to appreciate the beauty of photographing water droplets.

Bottom line, you have to think like a photographer and see the possibilities in everything around you.

Bear in mind that it does not have to be water and it does not have to colorless. Adding some food coloring, adding some color gels to the flash unit or using any other liquid like whiskey, milk and so on can enhance the "pleasing" effect of the final image.

If you have a high speed camera like a Canon EOS or any model that allows you to set a fast shutter speed of no less than 1/500, half the set up is ready. You also need an off camera flash which is high-speed synchronized, a dedicated extension cable for the flash (from camera to flash) and an electronic trigger for the shutter so you avoid having to touch the trigger manually thus increasing the chances of creating motion.

A bowl, a sponge and some way to hold the sponge over the bowl, plus a tripod would be the rest of the gear.

Set up the camera on the tripod with the lens of your choice although it should be a macro capable one. No need to get super close to the bowl but you need to be close nevertheless.

Place the bowl on a table at camera/lens level, set up the remote/off camera flash at an angle and aim it at a white card (not at the bowl) that has been set either facing the bowl or above it. The water is reflective so you cannot aim the light directly at it. The light will reflect of the white card and provide all the illumination that you will need.

I tend to use a bowl that I have painted completely black as well as setting everything against a black background. I do this to isolate the scene from anything that might serve as a distraction but a dark room along with a large aperture usually works well too.

One way that I have found works really well and saves me some work is to use a glass top table; Place a reflector on the glass surface directly on top of the setup which is set under the table. Drape a black cloth over the reflector and let it fall over one edge to serve as the backdrop.

You need to lay on the floor for this but it is easier than most other setups. Remember to aim the flash upwards and this should do the trick. Aluminum foil works better for my desired effects than a white card but this is up to you.

You can substitute the white card for foil or anything else that will reflect the light back. If you want to get adventurous then use a reflector that is colored.

You need to set the camera to manual mode and pre-focus on the center of the bowl and also make sure that the sponge sits directly above the center of the bowl. A tripod with a nano clamp to hold the sponge works great but it's not an absolute.

Don't worry if the water drips from the sponge before you are ready. In fact the more drops the better since getting the right timing is a combination of a good set up and some luck.

Take plenty of shots and once you are satisfied with the results you can start to experiment by adding food coloring the the liquid in the bowl or use color gels on the flash head.

These add charm and effect to the overall scene and can make for really cool alternatives to clear or monotone liquid.

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Keep in mind that liquids and your gear don't mix and the entire setup needs to be around one foot from the bowl itself.

Protect your flash by wrapping it in some sort of plastic like Cellophane which works really well. Don't' worry too much is some drops splash unto the front lens element. These will rarely do any harm.

I know I mentioned it before but you really need a good pivoting flash unit that can work remotely. An electronic sensor that fires the flash upon movement of the drop breaking the light beam is great but can be expensive.

Be ready to take a series of images as soon as you see the water drop. The reaction from the time you see the water drop to the time you actually depress the shutter is not as fast as you think. By taking a series of shots in rapid succession you increase the chances of capturing a good image.

Use a rather large aperture or f stop to maximize the amount of light that is allowed to hit the digital sensor or film plane. A range of f stops from f-8 to f-11 work well.

Be aware also that if you have anything with a strong color nearby like your walls, the surface or top of the table or decorations, their coloration might cast a color hue. A darkened room is usually the best way to go but it is not a complete must.

Alternative setup

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This is a great technique to try anytime but it is especially suited when the weather is not behaving or you simply don't feel like going out.

You do need to do this indoors and a small space will do just fine.

Just keep practicing and in no time you will perfect your timing to the point that you will get many more good shots than not.

Remote cable and speedlite

A Canon OC-E3 Off-Camera Shoe Cord for use with Canon Speedlites and EOS Series cameras. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/
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Think you will try this fun exercise ?

  • Yes,for sure
  • Maybe, when I feel up to it
  • Not my thing
See results without voting

Sample setup (Notice how well I DON'T draw???)

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© 2016 Luis E Gonzalez

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2 comments

Blond Logic profile image

Blond Logic 8 months ago from Brazil

Very informative.

I think most everyone has seen images of water drops and never thought about how the photographer got them.

My husband is a photographer and most people assume, he just points the camera and pushes a button. The general public don't understand all the styling and preparation which goes on before and then post processing.

The water droplet images have so many uses as they look great on everything from greeting cards to canvas prints for a home. Plus for advertising, they offer a lot of space for copy.

Excellent and useful article.


LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 8 months ago from Miami, Florida Author

Blond Logic: Thank you very much.

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