a10 August 2012

Tutorial: Shooting drops and water splashes

After sharing some droplets/splash photos a few days ago I got rather positive feedback so today I decided to write a few words on how to shoot droplets/splashes.

First of all you will need following items:
  • macro lens - if you don't have one, you can buy close up filter for just a few bucks, eg. here.
  • shallow dark tank - the best results you can achieve with black one. The tank shouldn't be very deep to avoid reflecting its walls in the water. Something like 3 - 6 cm should do. Also make sure it's clean inside as any dirt might become visible in the photos.
  • colourful sheet of paper (our background) - depending on your choice the water will have different colour. In the photo above I used solid green but also experimented with red, blue and some mix of red, blue and white.
  • small plastic bag
  • tripod
  • external flash unit and a wireless transmitter/receiver or a cable
And here are the steps to take water splash photo:
  1. Fill your tank with water. Note that depending of how much water you pour, you will get slightly different results (water will splash higher or lower for instance) so you will have to experiment what water level is the best for you.
  2. Put colourful sheet of paper behind the tank.
  3. Position flash unit in front of the tank. Let the flash unit target the background (at the angle of 45 degrees). This way the light will bounce off this card, change colour and light the water.
  4. Hang the plastic bag filled with water directly above the tank and made a tiny hole in it using a needle. Drops will start to fall at this stage.
  5. Position your camera (preferably on a tripod to avoid shake). Target your camera so you can see falling drops through a viewfinder. Note that an angle between your camera lens and water surface matters. The closer it gets to the right angle the less reflections you will have (but instead you will see bottom of your tank). So I suggest using steep angles. I don't what to get very technical here but if you're interested how much light will get reflected and refacted you can read on Fresnel equations.
  6. Change your lens focusing to Manual.
  7. Observe falling drops (they should always fall in the same place) and put a pen in the place where they hit water surface. While still holding a pen look through a viewfinder and focus on a pen using manual focusing ring.
  8. Set your camera to ISO 100. Shutter speed and aperture depend on the results you want to achieve. I was using fast shutter speed of 1/250 - 1/125 and apertures ranging f/11 to f/9.
  9. Switch your flash unit to manual mode.
  10. Take a few test shots and decrease power of your flash unit if necessary (i.e. if the images will be too bright).
  11. Start shooting :) this is the funniest and the most difficult part. Getting nice photo of a drop requires a bit of trial and error and also luck. You can observe falling drops and press shutter release when they are close to the water surface. Alternatively you can use Magic Lantern to detect motion. If you want to capture water splash wait for a "splash" sound and fire immediately after it.
If all of this sounds rather complicated, here is a concept image showing my setup during the shoot:

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