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How To Do Water Droplet Photography

Updated on May 18, 2015

Refracted Images In Water Drops On Glass

Water droplets on glass can capture wonderful images of things behind the glass. In this lens you will learn how to capture these images.

When light passes through water it refracts, or bends. This is why reeds in shallow water look bent at the water surface. Water droplets act like tiny lenses reflecting miniature reversed images within them. Using the macro setting on a compact digital camera, or a macro lens, close-up lens, or tube extensions on your with a DSLR camera, you can capture these reversed images.

Lego blocks for the stand.
Lego blocks for the stand.

Here Is The Set Up

Things that you will need:

For water drop on glass photography you should gather the following:

A macro lens, close-up lens, extension tubes, or macro setting on a compact digital camera.

A tripod and remote release.

A piece of glass or CD case.

An eye dropper or syringe.

Rain X

A makeshift stand.

A macro focusing rail

The subject of the picture (I used a Canadian Flag.)

When you use a macro lens the depth of field is extremely narrow. In order to get both the droplet and the refracted image inside to both be in focus you will need to use a small aperture. I generally use between f/16 and f/45. With the small aperture the shutter speed will be very slow so a tripod and remote release will be needed to keep the camera shake-free.

I tried using a box, a glass cylinder, and a white plastic garbage can for the stand to hold the glass over the subject being photographed. I found that they lacked the flexibility of changing the height of the glass over the subject. The further the glass is from the subject the more of the subject image will be refracted in the water droplets.

I settled on large Lego blocks to create the stand. By adding and taking away levels of blocks, I could choose the distance between the subject and glass.

I initially tried a plastic CD case to place the water drops on but found that the scratches in the plastic was magnified by the macro lens and distracted from the final image. The scratches could have been removed using editing software, but that would have been labor intensive. I found a piece of glass at a junk shop that was the right size. By rubbing in Rain X onto the glass surface you can get larger droplets before they collapse from too much water in the drop.

My set-up used an 85mm Nikkor Micro lens and a combination of 12mm and 20mm Digital Promaster extension tubes. The extension tubes allowed me to focus in closer to the droplets than if only the 85mm lens was used. You can try other combinations to get interesting results.

To help me focus on the water drops I used a 4-way macro focusing rail. This allowed me to set my macro lens at the desired magnification and then move my camera very precisely into focus. See the photographs of the focusing rail below.

Photographs of the 4-Way Macro Focusing Rail

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The focusing rail attaches to your tripod and the camera attaches on top of the focusing rail.The scales at 90 degrees allow you to minutely adjust the location of your camera in two dimensions.
The focusing rail attaches to your tripod and the camera attaches on top of the focusing rail.
The focusing rail attaches to your tripod and the camera attaches on top of the focusing rail.
The scales at 90 degrees allow you to minutely adjust the location of your camera in two dimensions.
The scales at 90 degrees allow you to minutely adjust the location of your camera in two dimensions.
Canadian Flag
Canadian Flag

The Subjects For Water Droplet Photography

are endless

The example I used above was a small Canadian flag. Other options are to take photographs of buildings or people and place them upside down at the bottom of the stand. Sea glass, flowers, Skittles, or other colorful items can also result in interesting pictures.

With a macro lens the magnification (or reproduction) ratio has to be at least 1:1. In other words, the size of the image on the camera sensor has to be at least life size. An R = 2:1 would provide an image on the sensor twice life size. An R = 1:1.2 will give an image smaller than life size. To get more than one droplet in the photograph I selected a ratio of between 1:10 and 1:1.2. I then moved the camera toward and away from the glass until the images in the droplets were in focus.

To get just one droplet in the photograph I selected an R = 1:1 and, again, moved the camera toward and away from the glass until the image in the droplet was in focus. I then increased the aperture opening to f/32 to f/45 to get the largest depth of field. This allowed a little of the subject in the background to come in focus and provide a more interesting background.

Examples Of Different Subjects To Photograph

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A Bose CD player remote was used as the subject for this water droplet photographSea glass makes a colorful background and interesting refractions in the water droplets.This photo, entitled "Dew Drop By The Park" won Best of Show in the 2012 One Day In The Life of Burlington photography contest.  Inside each water drop is an image of The Observatory at Discovery Landing.
A Bose CD player remote was used as the subject for this water droplet photograph
A Bose CD player remote was used as the subject for this water droplet photograph
Sea glass makes a colorful background and interesting refractions in the water droplets.
Sea glass makes a colorful background and interesting refractions in the water droplets.
This photo, entitled "Dew Drop By The Park" won Best of Show in the 2012 One Day In The Life of Burlington photography contest.  Inside each water drop is an image of The Observatory at Discovery Landing.
This photo, entitled "Dew Drop By The Park" won Best of Show in the 2012 One Day In The Life of Burlington photography contest. Inside each water drop is an image of The Observatory at Discovery Landing.

My Zazzle Stores - Find the perfect gift.

The links below will connect to my two Zazzle stores. The Lakeshore Studio store has "Message In My Soup" merchandise, including t-shirts, hats, magnets, buttons, and aprons. The CRB Photography store has prints, posters, wearing apparel, aprons, magnets, buttons, and wrapped canvas with my photography and artistic media.

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