Water Drops

Idea: This project or style of photography was suggested to me by a friend and a great photographer (check out his work colinbrowndesign.com). I looked at couple water drop photos and couple tutorials. Tutorials looked easy enough and decision was made… foolish me thinking it will be easy…

Preparation: Location, location, location… The question “where do I want to create all this mess” was immediately answered by “my workplace”. My employer is great in letting me use workplace in my off hours so I took advantage of it. As far as purchasing goods goes. I bought carton of milk, couple food dyes, powdered gelatin and medicine dropper (total expense 3USD). Camera, tripod and off camera flash and I was ready to roll… well at least I thought I was…

Photo: I would like to preface this by saying that I took some leeway in following most of the guides… wrong call. Camera on tripod was pre-focused on the spot where drop (should) hit the surface of the water/liquid. Since I handheld the dropper I had hard time hitting the exact same spot… having even a simple rig with the dropper fixed in place would have helped immensely… I started with white bowl as my vessel for water and positioned the external flash from a side… wrong call on both accounts – the light bounced all over the white bowl and as a result I had very clear photos of the bowl down to the bottom accentuated by the poor positioning of the flash… I switched to black trash bin with water (and in later photos cup with milk) and flash positioned almost directly opposite the camera behind a screen of white cloth used to soften the light. Camera was set up in M-mode, single shot, shutter at 1/10, aperture at around f16, ISO 100/200 and external flash at around 1/16 of its power (the shutter speed isn’t that important since the flash freezes the drop).

Result: When I finally found out that white bowl and side positioned flash isn’t the way to go I ended up with couple hundred photos most of them out of focus (due to the handheld dropper) and timed incorrectly (yep synchronizing dropping with one hand and pressing the shutter button with the other isn’t as easy as it looks :)). First I used the on camera flash only to trigger the external one but later I found out that using it to illuminate the front of the drop isn’t a bad idea either. I also had white sheets of paper all around the subject to create sort of a light trap. The more light I had the smaller the aperture (higher f number) I could set and have slightly clearer photos. Other results – lens completely covered in drops of various color and table looking sort of like swimming pool filled with paper towels.

Post-Processing: Photos below are heavily post-processed (you can easily see how noisy they are as well). Other then trying to salvage what little focus I had in the pictures using various settings I buffed the saturation and vibrance quite a lot to make them more colorful. But completely different approach could be take as well – and I came up with couple widely different photos but chose to showcase these. Two on the left are water in black trash bin with a bit of blue food dye. The four on the right are water dyed blue dropped into cup of milk.

Suggestions: Using rig to fix dropper in position is essential. Big black/dark liquid vessel makes life easier but you can get good results using smaller vessels and including parts of them in the photo. The flashes are also pretty straight forward external directly opposite of the camera and the on camera used to illuminate drops from the front. I will definitely revisit this project later with these suggestions in mind. (Ah almost forgot… I bought the gelatin to try and play with the viscosity of the water/liquid, but never got around to it – so different liquids of different colors are also great thing to do.)