Shooting water drop photography is a fun and simple way to get creative effects, particularly when you use food colouring to make a range of cool colours. By using high-speed flash you’re sure to freeze the action and get impressive results – and it’s so easy to do! In this tutorial we’re going to show you how to make your own home water drop photography setup, and demonstrate how to capture the drops in a split second.
For water drop photography you’ll need your DSLR and a suitable lens for close-ups (a macro lens will work best), a tripod, an external flashgun and a transmitter unit.
We need to use flash in order to freeze the water drops, as this enables you to capture faster movement than your camera’s fastest shutter speed. We’ll be using the Manual setting on our DSLR, and using the transmitter to fire our flashgun.
For the flash to be effective you’ll need to shoot in a fairly dark room, so close the curtains or blinds. By shooting in the dark you’ll also be able to use a narrow aperture in order to get a good depth of field, so that the milk drop is in focus from front to back. We’ll also show you how to enhance the contrast and colours of your milk drop images in Photoshop Elements.
01 Set the stage
Use a table or worktop surface with a wall behind to lean your backdrop against. For the backdrop use coloured paper, and position the bottom half of the paper on the table to create an infinity curve.
Fill a glass bowl with water (you can also use milk and other liquids), and place it on top of the paper. Next fill a bottle with water and food colouring, and shake well!
02 Position the bottle
We’ve used a couple of stands, a pole, a clamp to hold the bottle in place and some gaffer tape to attach the clip to the pole. If you don’t have any stands, you could place a curtain pole across a couple of chairs and tape your bottle to it. Keep the cap on the bottle for now, as we’re not ready to start dripping yet.
03 Position the camera and focus
Place your camera on a tripod and angle it down overlooking the bowl, with the surface of the milk filling most of the frame. Set the camera to Manual focus, hold or suspend a ruler or pen over the centre of the bowl roughly where you expect the milk drops will hit the surface, and focus on it.
04 Set up the flash
Set your flashgun to Slave mode and place it next to the bowl on its stand to one side, then attach the transmitter to your camera’s hotshoe (if your camera doesn’t have this feature built in). Set the transmitter and the flashgun to the same channel. Close the curtains or blinds to darken the room, and set the flash to at least 1/16 power to start with – you may need to adjust this once you’ve set your exposure.
05 Set the exposure
Set your camera to Manual mode, and set the shutter speed to 1/125 sec to sync with the flash. Next select a narrow aperture, such as f/13, so that you can capture a wide depth of field to ensure the milk drops are in focus, and set the ISO to 100 to capture all the detail of the effect. Fire off some test shots, and fine-tune the exposure or flash settings if required.
06 Start shooting
When you’re all set to go, remove the bottle cap and wait a few moments for the milk to start dripping. For the best effects you want to capture a drop just as it hits the surface of the water; it’s all about timing, and some trial and error will be involved, so keep checking the results every few shots. You can add different colours to the water for different effects.
07 Contrast and colour
Open your Raw image in Adove Camera Raw. For our example, we set Exposure to +0.15 and Recovery to 15 to pull back some highlights. To boost the contrast we set Blacks to 20 and Contrast to +50. We also set Clarity +50 – this really brings out the fine patterns in the liquid, and makes a big difference to the effect. To boost the colours we set Saturation to +6.
08 Crop and sharpen
Click Open Image to open the file in the Elements editor. Select the Crop tool, and crop the image to remove extraneous background areas; a portrait or square crop will work best. Use the Clone Stamp tool to tidy up any distracting splashes, then sharpen the image; we’ve used Unsharp Mask, setting Amount to 85%, Radius to 6 pixels and Threshold to 3.
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