Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Photographing water drops: This is really fun, and so easy that you can do this too!

I am now home from the Olympics and I am getting back to normal life once again. It usually takes me a month or so, but this time I jumped right back into the swing of things and adjusted in a couple of days. I stayed up for 30 hours straight and then slept all night and had no jet lag at all. Yippee.

But just because I am not shooting Olympic sports, does not mean that I am not shooting and blogging. After traveling for 4 weeks straight, I thought it would be fun to shoot something at home. Many years ago, I photographed water drops, and wanted to do this again. This is proof that you do not have to travel half way around the world to take fun photos. These photos were taken on our dining room table.

Let me start out by saying that, although this may look difficult, it is not too hard. And in this blog, I will explain how you can take these photos too. I started photographing the water drops without any background. I set the camera to manual mode with a shutter speed of 1/6 sec. What??? How am I freezing a very fast water drop at 1/6 sec?

The trick is this...I was using an off-camera flash and the duration of the flash actually freezes the water drop. So...even though I had a slow shutter speed, the flash is lighting the subject so quickly that the drop is frozen in place. The color that you see in the water is a combination of the dark pan and a pink bag that was in the background.

I liked the water drop, but wanted to add more color to the water. Some people might suggest adding food coloring to the water, but as it turns out, all you have to do is change the color in the background. So, I grabbed a colorful backpack (which I brought home from Sochi) and put it behind the pan. I pointed the flash at the backpack and got a little more color in the water. But it still was not enough color for what I wanted.

Then I found a colorful towel that was hanging up in the backyard. I put it over the backpack and fired the flash at the towel, and got this. Much better!

Here is a picture of my setup. I placed a pan with water on the table, and then suspended plastic ziplock bag filled with water about 2 feet above the pan. I poked a very small hole in the bag, so that I would have a slow drip into the pan. (Note - this was the hardest part of the process, with it taking numerous attempts at getting the hole the right size, and having the right amount of water to in the bag, to create a consistent drip and not a constant flow of water.) I set my Canon 1DX camera with the Canon 100mm macro lens (although I could have easily used my Canon 5D Mark III and almost any lens that will focus within 6 inches) on my Gitzo tripod and then pointed the Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT flash towards my background. I used Canon's ST-E3-RT transmitter to fire the flash, but you can also use a flash extension cord which would work just fine and is only $30. I had a black background, but probably did not even have to have that. I used numerous colorful items as backgrounds. In this photo I have one of my wife's encaustic paintings.

As you can see, I used different props from around the house to get cool reflections back on the surface of the water. On the table, you can see my daughter's "Happy Birthday" bag, the colorful beach towel and even the seat cushion.

This photo shows the reflection off of the seat cushion. Who would have known that this simple household item could create something so awesome?!

And, it doesn't always have to be the water drop in the photo. Here is the splash caused by the incoming drop.

I really liked the reflection of the seat cushion and took many photos with this background.

This is one of my favorites from the group. Oh, at this point, you are probably wondering about my camera settings. Here is how I set the camera:

* Manual mode
* ISO 800
* Shutter speed 1/6 sec
* f/16 (to get more of the frame in focus)
* Manual focus
* Flash in TTL mode

It is very difficult to prefocus on a water drop, so I took the same pin which I used to put a hole in the plastic bag, and turned it around. The back side of the pin had this little round ball. I put the red ball right where the water drops were falling, and prefocused the camera on that spot.

This shows another photo taken with the blue and green beach towel as my background.

This pink background was using the "Birthday bag" as my background.

I even tried using a potted plant to see if I could get the color of the leaves in the shot.

As my water was dripping out of the bag, I searched the house for more colorful objects. I looked in one of our closets and found some unused wrapping paper from last Christmas. I rolled that out behind the pan of water and got this shot. If you look closely at the water drop, you can see Santa Claus hiding in there.

Another splash crater within the red and green of the Christmas wrapping paper.

Since I really like the color blue, I went back to the blue and green beach towel. But, this time I added in a blue and white beanie that I purchased in Sochi.

Here is a close up of the previous photo, showing the reflection of the blue and white beanie at the bottom of the water drop. Pretty cool huh?

I hope that this has inspired you to try this fun at-home photography project. Try it and amaze your friends with the details in the simple little things that most of us never see.

And...if you like this...stay tuned for the next blog when I teach you how to photograph smoke.


Anonymous said...

Awesome! Thanks Jeff! Off to gather "supplies".

Unknown said...

Thanks Jeff ! I will definitely give this a shot one day.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the great tips!

Jennifer said...

these are great-the focusing on the pin helps. I tried this using aquarium valves, tubing and my old aquarium. It worked pretty well but wasn't as sharp as yours. I'll try focusing like you did! Oh, I used sheets of stained glass behind my shot to get the color and it worked amazingly well

Unknown said...

Interesting Jeff, as always. I had a play at this a few weeks ago using a slave flash which I triggered with a tiny slave flash with a test button. I set the camera with a long exposure in a low light environment and the kitchen tap with a tiny drip. It all got a bit messy and the boss wanted the sink back so the experiment had to stop. I will have to have another go to get the colours into it. We do something similar in the open air on sunny days. My grandson loves heaving rocks into stream so I set the camera to keep shooting and manual focus and we get some great rainbows in the 'splooshes'. It is great fun for the kids as well.

Adam Pehl said...

I am curious of how much post processing you had to do with these shots. Any tips on that aspect?

Agnes said...

That was lovely! Thanks! Now I know what I will be doing this weekend..

Agnes said...

Thanks so much for the instructions. I simply have to try this!!

Bonny said...

Thanks for sharing! These are gorgeous - esp those with a lot of colors! I'll have to try!

Unknown said...

Great post. Really cool shots! Thanks so much for sharing. I am excited to try but in the middle of considering flash purchase. What are your thoughts on the 430EX II? Would love to pick up the 600EX but watching the budget. Any input you can offer is much appreciated!

Jeff Cable Photography Blog said...

Adam - I did a little post processing, increasing the contrast on some of the photos. I also removed some of the distractions (since I left the overhead lights on and they created some ugly streaking on some of the images).

Donald - any flash will work. The 430EX is fine for most uses, but does not have the wireless triggering which I love so much!

Jeff Cable Photography Blog said...

Adam - I did a little post processing, increasing the contrast on some of the photos. I also removed some of the distractions (since I left the overhead lights on and they created some ugly streaking on some of the images).

Donald - any flash will work. The 430EX is fine for most uses, but does not have the wireless triggering which I love so much!

Rikki Hatfield said...

Thanks for sharing this idea! I am going to give this a try!

Rikki Hatfield said...

Very cool! I am going to give this a try.

Brenda J said...

Did I miss this- but how did you know when to trip the shutter? Just hit and miss based on the timing of the drip?

Steve said...

Did you experiment at all by using manual settings on your flash?

Jeff Wallace said...

Outstanding...Now I have something to do between taxes this weekend! Thank you so much for not only sharing your trade, you also include the techie stuff for us tech junkies!

Leigh Smith said...

Thank you so much for sharing this! Always looking for new and interesting things to shoot! Looking forward to your blog on smoke :)

Ryan said...

I'm just curious, is there a reason you chose to shoot at ISO 800 and such a slow shutter speed? Seeing as how you're using the flash for illumination, I would have thought a lower ISO, and faster shutter speed would have been better to reduce contamination from ambient light sources, such as the overhead lights you mentioned.

Unknown said...

These were great shots Jeff! But can this be done without an off-camera flash? Because I don't have one. If so, then do I need to play around with the settings more? Thank you.

Darlene said...

I will have to check this out when I am not 1/2 asleep. Saw this on 365 and had to check out how you do this. I am glad you posted it to share and will have to get away from Auto and use manual settings.

Mike said...

If you can get your hands on a IV Bag and IV line you can control the water drops pretty well

Pam Nelligan said...

I cannot wait to try it ! Your descriptions and "illustrations" are fantastic. Thank you !

Unknown said...

I used 10 ml hypodermic syringe (about 15 cm above the water surface) to make water drops and cable release. Lastly i used food coloring to make water look dark.