Find out how to photograph water drops from our expert guide to water drop photography. Read the camera tips below for setting up a macro home photo studio, using your digital camera and editing in Photoshop to create fine art water drop photos.
If your portfolio is suffering from a lack of inspiring small-scale action photography then it’s time to start capturing amazing miniature water sculptures. As with most still-life photography, the success is in the preparation and gear set-up. Although there’s a fair bit of kit involved, you won’t need expensive high-speed strobes or technical shutter or flash triggering units. This can easily be done with an off-camera flash and cord plus a macro lens or extension tube.
Step 1: Set up a macro home studio for water drop photos
Predictably, water and expensive cameras don’t mix very well, so ensure you have a wide and level working area to set up your equipment and work safely. Make sure all the equipment is secure and aim to be in a shady or darkened room for the best possible lighting.
Any brand of camera flash that has a Manual mode will do the job. Place it in a clear or neutral colour plastic bag to stop it getting splashed by the drips.
Firing the flashgun (or a pop-up flash) from the hotshoe will look harsh. A cord will be required to place the flash closer to the subject.
It’ll need to be a comfortable height to work from and sturdy – both good traits for a tripod. In these pictures just micro-movements can throw the focus way off.
If you have one, use it to focus super-close and increase impact. Alternatively, fit an extension tube to a mid-range zoom lens for the same effect. Extension tubes allow even closer focusing distances and work perfectly when zoomed in to around 70mm.
Using a remote-release cord isn’t essential but it will make it easier to fire the shutter unrestricted and will avoid wet hands touching the camera.
Clear glass and tray:
A clear tall glass filled with water and a clear or neutral colour tray to catch the excess liquid is essential to avoid unwanted colour casts tinting the image.
Bottle and pin:
To get small and steady drips, make a hole in the bottom of a quarter-filled plastic water bottle. Use a household pin to pierce a small aperture on the lowest part of the bottle to actually start the water dripping. Leave the lid on and pierce a small air hole in the top. This lets air enter the bottle slowly and avoids creating a vacuum so that the drips can flow out evenly.
A purpose-made stand to hold the dripping water bottle is best but you might need to be resourceful. We used a pair of molegrips taped to a camera case. The large pair of molegrips hold the bottle while the small pair are clamped onto them and taped to the case.
Backgrounds are vitally important to inject some impact into the pictures. The great thing is that they’re just cheap card from a stationers.
Step 2: Use these DSLR settings
Here’s how we’d recommend you set up your camera for water drop photography…
● Flash – switch the flash to Manual and set it to 1/16th full power to start.
● Focusing – manual focus is critical for sharp images.
● Exposure – use Manual mode to keep control over metering.
● Exposure mode – manual.
● Aperture – set it to f/22 for maximum depth of field and to avoid focusing errors.
● Shutter speed – to avoid ambient light select a shutter speed of around 1/200 sec.
● Drive mode – avoid guessing the timing and use Single shot.
● Quality – shoot in RAW format for best quality and greater latitude during editing.
Step 3: How to take the water drop photos
When you have your kit ready you can concentrate on the photography. Compose in upright format with the cup lip at the bottom of the frame. Don’t shoot from too high or you’ll get the cup in the shot. Remember that the close and shallow angle will make focusing crucial as the depth of field will be miniscule.
The freezing of action in this technique comes from the short blip of flash exposing the water rather than from the shutter speed or ambient light. This means that in-camera metering is redundant (use the aperture and shutter speed setting suggested above) and that you must rid the room of as much light as possible.
Place the flash below the camera angled upwards for a super contrasty lighting effect. After putting the background card close to the cup, you’re ready to take a test exposure and check the histogram. Specular highlights in the water should be clipped (falling off the right-hand side of the histogram) and shadows at the edge of the background should be black. If you need to adjust the flash power, experiment by moving it backwards or forwards. If you still need adjustments then use the output setting on your flash unit.
Get focusing spot-on for sharp drops
Line up the shot:
Lay a pen over the centre of the glass and aim the drip by moving the stand so that it hits the very centre of the glass.
Focus and check the result:
Manually focus on the pen where the drip is splashing and double check it on your LCD by zooming in.
Get the timing right
Pressing the shutter to catch the splashes is the easiest part. A remote shutter release will give you freedom to position yourself and get a better feel for the timing. As the drip hits, pause before firing the shutter to allow the water to rise and create an interesting shape. Keep the room dark and you should be able to see the shapes momentarily as the flash freezes them.
A fraction of a second after the drop hits the water the initial splash has dissipated and the frame should be clear of stray drips. A nipple will form and begin to rise upwards
The rising nipple will form a column that can produce some cool shapes and imaginary figures. Experimenting with the height of the water drop can produce varying results.
Try to fire the shutter after the column has fully extended and as the surface tension of the water interacts with gravity. It’ll produce some wacky and almost symmetrical shapes.
Quite literally a fraction of a second later and the event has passed. Even though it looks good as a suspended bubble above the water’s surface the impact and X-factor is lost.
Photoshop tutorial: turning water drops into fine art photos
1. Adjust Levels
Increase the contrast and give the images a little more bite using Levels. Click Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Levels. Use the Auto Levels button and watch the blacks become deeper and the contrast increase.
First select the Crop tool [C] and drag it across the whole of the image. Hold down [Shift] to constrain the size of the crop and position it over the part of the frame that you require, rotating it as necessary.
Before beginning to clone out the dust spots, create a new background Layer by dragging the Background Layer onto the Create New Layer icon or clicking Layer>Duplicate Layer. Title this Layer ‘Dust Spots’ for reference.
With the ‘Dust Spots’ Layer highlighted choose the Clone tool from the Tool Palette [S]. Select a soft feathery brush and resize the cloning area using the square bracket keys for a more precise diameter change.
Select the whole canvas by pressing [Ctrl/Opt-A]. From the menu select Edit>Stroke. In the dialogue box choose a Pixel width of around 5 and choose black from the colour picker. Leave the Location to Centre and the Blending mode to Normal.
6. Canvas size
For the classy white border to sit beyond the small black border click Image>Canvas Size and choose a white background colour from the colour swatch. Click the Relative check box and enter another 7cm in each Width and Height box.
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