"The aim of the game is to take shots of water drops like this"
If you have hit a “photographic wall” and are stuck in a rut photographing the same subjects over and over, and feel like you’re getting nowhere fast water drop photography may be something you wish to consider.
I hit the photographic wall, and with the short winter days and a full time job (meaning I barely got to get out in the daylight let alone get out in it with my camera) I looked for an indoor photography project that would get me motivated to the camera out and take some photos.
After a bit of reading around I stumbled across water drop photography, which looked pretty cool and seemed like a good idea, so I thought I would give it a try and document my experience in my blog.
EQUIPMENT FOR SET UP FOR WATER DROP PHOTOGRAPHY
"Simple water drop set up - a bit ramshackle and basic, but it works"
Since this was my first attempt at water drop photography I didn’t have any specialist equipment at all and used whatever I could find laying around the house at the time. As you can probably imagine the stuff I had laying around resulted in a bit of a ram shackle set up that was a real faff to adjust (and fine tuning was impossible) but it worked for me.
The equipment I use to set up my “water drop” set comprised:-
I did some research before having a go at photographing water drops and I saw some very elaborate (and expensive) set ups comprising all sorts of bits, pieces and gadgets. I didn’t have access to any of these and had to make do with the above. Not great I know, but it was a start.
PHOTO EQUIPMENT USED FOR WATER DROP PHOTOGRAPHY
Over the years I have managed to accumulate quite a bit of photography gear (I tend to dabble in a bit of everything) so I had everything I needed to have a good go at water drop photography. From my initial research and what I had read on the internet about water photography I had a look through my gear and decided the following would be best for my first attempt at water photography:-
For my first attempt at water photography I wanted everything to be as simple as possible so I opted for a plain white photography background. I know this is not very creative, but I wanted to master the technique of water drop photography before getting too creative. I plan to use different backgrounds in future water drop photography shoots.
SETTING UP THE SHOT FOR WATER DROP PHOTOGRAPHY
Because of the ram shackle water drop system I was using setting everything up didn’t take too long in the first instance and comprised filling the tray with water, stacking one paint can on top of the other, filling the water bottle, laying this on its side on top of the paint can with the cap slightly loose.
The set up was simple enough but I couldn’t fine tune it, and this is where it started to get more awkward. I wanted to get the water drips to fall more in the centre of the tray but because the paint cans had to stay in a fixed position, as did the water bottle (there was only so far I could move it over the tray before gravity took over and it toppled off the paint cans) I could only get the drips to strike the water a maximum of 4cm from the side of the tray, which made setting up the camera, and the speed lights trickier than it should have been.
One of the critical things about water drop photography is focusing and this is one situation where using auto focus will not work. Manually focussing on a small, fast moving object (i.e. a water drop) is difficult and I found the best way to overcome this was to stick the tip of a pencil in the exact spot the drips were hitting the water and manually focusing on that, using live view mode and zooming in to 100% as necessary. This method was a little fiddly as I had to hand hold the pencil myself whilst looking at the LCD screen and turning the focus ring, and with my short arms and unsteady hands it took longer than it should. Using an assistant would have made the process much easier, but my wife doesn’t like to “interfere” when I am taking photos. I guess the best way around it would have been to suspend the pencil from a stand, but as I didn’t have any stands (I was using paint cans to suspend the water bottle in the first instance) I had no choice but to focus the way I focused.
CAMERA SETTINGS FOR WATER DROP PHOTOGRAPHY
I wanted a good depth of field and also the best image quality so I set the aperture to the lenses sweet spot, which is f11. My flash sync speed is 1/200 so the fastest shutter speed I could set was 1/180.
The duration of the flash will freeze the action, however the shutter speed will also have a large effect since I was shooting in low lit but not dark room. There was no way I could have taken photos in a totally dark room because I needed to see when the water drops were falling so I could fire the shutter accordingly. Since there was still some ambient light in the room the relatively slow shutter speed (compared to the duration of the speed light) meant the camera would carry on recording after the flash had fired.
Over the course of two hours I ended up taking several (and I mean several) photos, the majority of which I totally missed. Getting the timing right was difficult and it was “hit or miss” all the way.
Using the water drop set up, the photography equipment and the camera settings (all as above) here are a few of the (many) shots, which for a first attempt I am quite happy with.
FOR FUTURE ATTEMPTS
Even though two hours may seem like a long time it really isn’t and I didn’t achieve half as much as I wanted to. The shoot was a useful exercise and it has highlighted many problems, issues and niggles I need to address to get the sort of shots I am after.
The first thing I intend to do is find a way of getting the water drops to fall in the middle of the tray, although I have a feeling this may involve buying a science/retort stand. In addition to this I also want to find a way of controlling the water droplets without spending a fortune on an electronic water drip machine. At the moment I have no idea how I am going to do this, but I am sure there is a way around it.
In the future I am also going to try and incorporate some colour during the capture stage. I have read that gelling the flash, using colourful photography backgrounds and food colourings are the easiest way to do this, so I am going to try these out first.
There are so many thoughts and ideas running around inside my head I have a feeling water drop photography is going to take up quite a bit of my time, and I am actually looking forward to it.
IS WATER DROP PHOTOGRAPHY SOMETHING FOR YOU?
Water drop photography is fun and I urge anyone with the tiniest bit of curiosity (like I had) to give it a go although I appreciate it won’t be to everyone’s taste.
The aim of these musings was to show that you don’t need loads of expensive, hi-tech kit to capture photos of falling water drops (although it definitely helps!) and that you can achieve good results using a basic (and ramshackle) water drop set up. So go on and give it a go, who knows? It may be your niche.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.