Photographing water droplets
Have you seen some of those wonderful images of drops of liquid
splashing up and making incredible sculptures as they do so ?
You could be forgiven for thinking that is must be extremely difficult,
and very expensive multiple high-speed flash guns are necessary
to achieve these results.
In actual fact, all you need is a macro lens or
short telephoto (ideally fitted with an extension tube)and a single
modern TTL or ETTL flashgun. Although I haven't tried it, it might
even be possible to use the on-board flash on some cameras if
this is all that you have. A more powerful external flash will
certainly provide a shorter duration flash sufficient to both
freeze the motion and achieve correct exposure at very small apertures.
I had never attempted this before, but was very pleased with a
couple of hours work that I did over the kitchen sink. So - I
can definitely say this is not difficult.
This is my favourite image from the series:
So how is it done?
With the camera mounted on a tripod, fit a short telephoto lens
plus extension tube, or better still - use your longest macro
lens. I actually used a Canon 180mm macro, and also experimented
with a 1.4x converter fitted too. The reason for this, is because
I was trying to blur the background as much as I could - to keep
as much of the kitchen sink out of the picture as possible!
Next, fill the sink to near the brim ( I plugged the overflow
hole to get it really high). It might be an idea to try this when
your significant other is not around to witness the occasional
Adjust the tripod until it is low enough to have as low a viewpoint
as possible, but high enough not to see too much background. Place
a coloured card (blue in my case) as the background and try to
position it so it reflects into the water a little. As my tap
was too close to the background, I made the water run down a strip
of bent metal before it dripped into the water. You will need
to experiment a bit here by trial and error.
Now set the camera up as follows:
Set the camera to ISO 400, use RAW file format, set the mode to
"M" - manual exposure, and use manual focus (switch
AF off). Set the aperture to f/11 to begin with and the shutter
speed to the flash synchronisation speed of your camera (if you
don't know what this is, it will be in your camera instruction
manual). I used 1/250th of a second on my Canon IDII camera. It
is imperative to exclude natural light from the image or blurred
pictures will result, so don't have the room too bright. Only
light from the flashgun is of sufficiently short duration to freeze
the motion of the water droplets. Fit the flashgun - I used both
a normal Canon 420 EX speedlight flashgun mounted directly on
the camera and I also tried an MT24 EX twinflash setup - both
to good effect.
Next turn the tap on until you have a continuous
slight trickle of water emerging. This is what you are going to
focus on. Manually focus on the water stream.This is a bit tricky
as you are viewing through the camera at maximum aperture - a
lamp or torch may help you to see the stream better. Leave a little
space around the drops for splashes to develop in, you can crop
later in post-processing. You can experiment with landscape or
portrait format, and although not essential I found that a remote
cable release came in handy, so that I could watch the drips and
press the shutter when I felt the moment was right.
Set the tap to provide a regular flow of drips - open it just
enough to get a drop every second or so. I started off with slow
drips and chose my moment carefully to depress the shutter button,
but after a while I found this was not necessary - I ended up
setting the tap to a near-continuous drip and randomly took pictures.
The TTL or ETTL flashgun will take care of exposure for you, but
take a look at the camera's histogram after your first shot and
apply flash exposure compensation (FEC) up or down until the histogram
is looking good i.e. you have captured all the pixels and the
graph is shifted as far to the right of the display box as possible
without clipping the highlights (seen as a sharp spike to the
right hand side of the histogram). Don't try to change the exposure
with the aperture or shutter speed dials - use the FEC button
to do this.
Fire away !
Now, you simply have to take a lot of shots hoping to strike lucky!
I was obtaining an interesting image about every 10 or so shots
and an in-focus interesting image about every 20 or so. The water
droplets don't always go straight up and down, so they are not
always in focus. If your shots are not sharp, try readjusting
your focus or increasing the depth of field by reducing the camera
aperture setting down to f14 or f16. However, you can only do
the latter if your flashgun is sufficiently powerful to achieve
the correct exposure at this tiny aperture. You don't need to
touch the shutter speed - leave this to the flash-sync speed.
The benefit of shooting the image in RAW format
is that it is possible to alter the colour balance and hue settings
to achieve the final colour/look of preference. I slid the colour
balance sliders towards the blue end of the adjustment and set
the hue to what I considered to be a nice shade of blue. Not strictly
natural for sure - but this is a studio shot - not a true wildlife
image, so anything goes !
Finally, I opened the image in Photoshop, adjusted
the levels and hue/saturation and unsharp mask until it looked
good. As the icing on the cake I applied a little noise reduction
with "Neat Image" to get a smooth grainless look.
I have it in mind to try getting coloured reflections in the droplets
by using coloured tinfoil near the water, and will perhaps even
try some different liquids. Perhaps a more viscous liquid such
as an oil will create some different sculptures ? Only one way
to find out......
You can view some more of my water