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Catching the Elusive Water Drop

For some reason people, myself included, like water drop photographs. Catching that moment of the splash is a lot of fun (hence the proliferation of them on my site) and it’s actually not all that hard.

First, lets talk the basics of it… To catch the drop, you have to freeze that moment in time and we do that with light. In general, to make this happen, here are my basic ingredients:

1. Flash mounted off camera, with a snoot, and at about 1/16th power.

2. The camera positioned at a fairly low angle to the water surface and focused where the drops are striking (more about that in a moment).

3. Set the camera to a low ISO (I use 100 usually), an aperture of f/8 or f/9.5, and a shutter speed of about 1 second.

4. From these settings, you can probably guess that the room is going to have to be very dark, the darker the better. Why? Well that ensures that the only light being captured is the light of the flash.

5. Some sort of pan, I usually use glass bakeware but there are lots of options, to catch the water. Fill it up, preferrably to the rim with a much larger pan underneath to catch the overflow.

6. Some source for the drops suspended above the drip pan. There are a lot of options here from baggies to expensive machines with precise control. I started with baggies and used the more expensive zip lock because they didn’t result in an uncontrolled stream. Eventually I rigged my own using a watering jug for rabbits, some 1/2″ clear tubing, and a readily obtained water valve from the Home Depot. All the parts fit together nicely, were very cheap, and gave me much better control of the water than a baggy did. At some point I’ll post a DIY article on it, however, baggies are fine as well and you can use a straight pin to make a small puncture that gives a reasonable flow.

7. A light, or multi-coloured, backdrop behind the water pan. You’ll want to bounce the light from the flash off it instead of aiming directly at the water.

So, now that you have all the parts, it’s time to start shooting. First things first, get everything into position. Generally, I place the camera on a sturdy tripod a few feet from the drip pan aiming straight on and attach my cable release. The flash is then placed on another tripod about two feet away, with the snoot on, and aimed at the backdrop so that the light bounces off that and hits the water from behind. The snoot will help to keep the light focussed tightly in the area you want it.

Next, you have to focus the camera on where the drops are hitting. There are a couple of ways to do this:

1. Place a bolt in the drip pan until the drops strike it and then focus on the bolt. When satisfied, remove the bolt.

2. Place a nice, straight, object such as a ruler or a skewer, across the pan horizontally until the drops are hitting it and then focus on that where the strikes are.

I use both methods, go with what works, but bear in mind that autofocus is not going to work well and trying to manually focus without a focus aid is near impossible. Alright, now that you’re focussed, you’re ready to go… So, turn off all lights (use a flashlight to move around if you need, but turn it off when ready to start), position yourself so that you have the cable release in one hand and a finger of your other hand on the “test” button of the flash. When ready, fire the camera and then manually press the flash test button to trigger the flash.

Now, of course, you’re very unlikely to get the perfect shot the first try, so the goal here is to fire often and at will. Any time I set out to do these shots I will usually take between 200 to 600 or more pictures. Why not? I doesn’t really cost anything with digital and you’re more likely to get some wall art this way! So, don’t stint on the shutter count here.

4 Responses

  1. Good concise article for water drop photography. Thank you.

  2. Very nice post, thanks for sharing so many useful details.

    Kudos for the shots and patience too! :)

  3. […] Finally, if you are into capturing water drops don’t miss John Cavan’s very good post on the subject – Catching the Elusive Water Drop […]

 
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