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How to take Ink in Water Photographs

Updated on March 17, 2013

Blue Food Coloring in Water

I had taken this while experimenting with the process bellow. There is some snow, because I didn't compensate. However it's one of the better shots of the series.
I had taken this while experimenting with the process bellow. There is some snow, because I didn't compensate. However it's one of the better shots of the series. | Source

Capturing Magic

A photographer sees the most amazing world through the viewfinder. It’s all a matter of capturing that beauty in that moment and the most magical moment in a split second, which others miss.

There are several different methods for taking ink photographs, the glass or vase method, the fish tank method and throwing it. This guide will focus on the glass and vase method.


One of the most important things to remember is to know you camera and gear. Every camera is different; this particular set uses a Canon Eos Rebel T2i, however just about any camera may be used. Keep in mind that when using film you will want to use a shutter release cable.

  • Ink, Dye or Food Coloring
  • A Tripod or Stack of Books
  • A Polarizing Filter **
  • A White Background, Light Box, LCD Screen or Window
  • Sheet and Extra Light if Using a White Background or Sheet
  • A Non Textured Glass or Vase
  • Clean water
  • An eye dropper
  • A Bucket
  • 2 Large Bottles of Water

*A Light Meter and Shutter Release Cable are Optional.

** This is only required if there is glare coming off the vase or glass.

For these photos any dye, food coloring, or ink may be used, however keep in mind that different inks and dyes will act differently in water. For example, food coloring tends to curl more than black India ink and spreads through the water in the glass or vase quickly, while Black India Ink takes longer to move and floats on the top of the water.

Lighting Setups:

There are several different possible set ups which may be used to take these photos. The ones listed bellow are just a few examples of what I have used.

The Sheet and Window Setup:

If using a window, tack a sheet over it; make sure it’s white and thin enough for the light to go through it. The sheet gives a clean white background, which is the key for a clean finish. However, make sure the weave on the sheet isn’t too noticeable; it will distract you from the ink.

The LCD Screen Setup:

If an LCD screen is used position the vase directly in front of it, this will cause a great deal of light to flood in, however it may be inconsistent. This can easily be fixed during processing if using a digital camera, just keep in mind while you are shooting.

Light Box Setup:

Light boxes are wonderful; they do not flicker as badly as LCDs and offer consistent light. Just make sure that the light box is stable and doesn’t tip over.

The Camera:

Every camera is different. Yet, there are still some things, which are important to remember for this. Turn on the Manual Focus and set up the camera, if Auto Focus is left on, it will not shoot the ink in water, and may not capture the shots you desire.

Switch the camera from single shot to rapid shooting, which will ask the camera to take more than one shot when the shutter release is held. Some cameras are more sensitive than others, this is where a cable is optional. It also depends on the photographer. With the shutter release cable, it’s much easier to add the ink to the water and focus on what the ink looks like. Not every photographer has access to one, which is understandable; it works just as well without the cable. Just make sure you avoid jarring the camera.

Make sure you adjust the ISO and Aperture in accordance to the light in the room. Keep in mind your asking the camera to take multiple shots, meaning rapid shutter speed. So remember to compensate.

Once the camera has been set up, place it on the tri-pod.

The Vase or Glass:

Select a vase or a glass which is non-textured, traditional clear flower vases from the florist work exceptionally well for this. Glass is highly reflective, so you may want to have a Polarizing Filter on hand. Simple wine glasses also work well, be sure to wash them thoroughly shooting is finished. Clean the vase before you start to get dust and residue off of it.

Pour water into the vase or glass; make sure it’s filled approximately 5cm from the rim. It will give the ink room to move and also make disposal easier. For these shots, it is possible to use different color glasses and vases, just remember to keep this in mind while shooting, the images may look different than predicted.

Between shootings, you want to rinse the glasses or vase thoroughly because residual ink will destroy shots. Which cause a murky color to appear rather than that crisp and sensational color which is desired.

The Run Through:

This section uses the option of a window and a sheet, without a Shutter Release Cable. However the basic steps are the same regardless.

Once the light source for the image has been determined and the tripod as well as this source has been set up. Place the empty vase on the windowsill, and set up the tri-pod. Place the tri-pod, or stack of books, so the camera will be very close to the glass. Not so that the lens touches the vase but close enough so it is possible to focus on the contents of the vase, and not get the walls in the shot.

Place the camera on the tri-pod, once the settings have been put in, and set up the short the rest of the way. Fill the vase with water and make any last minute adjustments before shooting, always check your camera’s settings before shooting.

Open the bottle of ink or food coloring and place the cap off to the side. Always turn it upside down or place it on a sheet of paper to prevent staining. Squeeze some ink into the dropper and get ready to hold the shutter release.

Slowly add drops of the ink to the water and hold down the shutter release. Once the ink starts to really curl in the bottom of the vase do not add anymore ink. Allow it to continue moving through the water and continue to shoot.

Once the water has turned the color of the ink, murky, and the curls are no longer visible stop shooting. Empty the vase or glass into the bucket, and rinse it with clean water. Feel free to give it a little swirl over the bucket before dumping to get all the ink out of it.

Dry the vase or glass, and then repeat for more shots.

Other Tips:

Avoid cross contamination of inks, it will produce odd colors and the ink may not give the same effect. If using one dropper, rinse it between inks to prevent contaminating the well.

Keep a towel around just in case water spills and be careful with the vase at all times, especially around the camera. Wipe any water droplets off the face of the vase before shooting for a professional finish.

Place a picture inside the vase when focusing, something with lots of color. This will force you to focus on what’s going on in the vase rather than around it. Take the picture out before water is poured into it.

When shooting using different tinted glasses, choose colors which will stand out. For example if the glass is pink, select black or blue, avoid red and yellow.


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    • poetryman6969 profile image


      6 years ago

      Voted up.

      Some interesting tips on one of the kinds of photography that has always fascinated me.

    • accoffin profile imageAUTHOR

      Alexandra Coffin 

      8 years ago from Amenia, NY

      Thank you. I'm not a stellar photographer, however I find having a good guide a great place to start. I wanted it to be easy to follow, and for you to have the sense that you could take them too. Anyway, thanks for the comment.

    • raydevlin profile image

      Ray Devlin 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Very creative - thanks for sharing these tips!


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