Falling Water ( A different look at photographing water drops)

November 28, 2012  •  Leave a Comment


This is for the "How I Took It" contest on: http://www.diyphotography.net/howitookit2012

Hi all, I have been working for a couple of years now on photographing water drops.  I was inspired by the tutorial on www.diyphotography.net by Corrie White.  My first attempts were pretty bad, in the sense that they weren't anything unusual or different from what I had seen in the tutorial.  I didn't have the funds to buy a timer and go for the two drop impact shots.  So where was I to go creatively?  

My inspiration came while taking a class at the local community college and learning how to photograph glass.  Water being a clear liquid, I began to  think of it more as glass than water.  Most of the water drop photos I have seen including Corrie's use the bright field method which turns the edge of the drops black, by using a lit background.  As illustrated in this shot.


 I wanted some color in the drops without using colored liquids.  But how?

The answer came when I was photographing drops falling into a bowl of water.  I had set the bowl on a sheet of white plexiglass, and for some reason decided to make the area around the base of the bowl glow blue.  I placed a speedlight under the plexi with a blue gel and was amazed at the result.  NOTE: take extreme caution when placing your electrical/ battery operated equipment under something containing water, lest bad things happen from spills.

Not only did the base glow blue but the edges of the drops as well.  My rudimentary setup was difficult to keep the drops in focus as the rig i was using to generate the drops was prone to moving.  I was able to capture some different looks and found that a dark background and a bright what I call "bottom Light" worked well.

 Here is an image of my initial setup, the bottom light is on the blocks under the plexiglass.

Seeing that the concept of having a light source under the vessel you are dropping the water into adds a cool effect I wanted to explore the idea more.  I was running out of cool vases to drop water into, (Any imperfections in the glass are magnified in this technique so a bubble free vessel is important.) So I decided to visit my local plexiglass supplier and raid their scrap table which is considerably cheaper than buying full sheets of new plexi.

My trip yielded a piece of 12x36" 1/4" thick clear base and side walls that were 1/2" thick and 2 inches tall.  If I were to build this again I would opt for thinner walls and a bit shorter.  What resulted was a long reservoir of clear plexiglass.  A note, the acrylic glue won't necessarily create a waterproof joint and as you will be placing expensive equipment under the water I would recommend going around the joints with clear caulking.

It is a pretty simple build and only takes about 4 hours including time to let the caulk dry.


Lacking a fancy timer driven servo I use an eyedropper on a boom stand.  Although anything that will hold your dropper in place without moving or getting into frame will work. The challenge comes in squeezing the dropper bulb and the shutter release in sync to catch the drop at impact.  There will be a lot of misses but with practice you will become more consistent at catching the drop. I have also used a small fountain pump with surgical tubing to create a constant stream of drops falling into the tank. This makes the timing a bit less crucial in shutter release.  The problem with using this setup is that the water in the tank will get bubbles and the surface will ripple and you lose the nice ring around the splash.  

One other thing to consider is to make sure your tank is clean and free of debris, otherwise you will spend a lot of time in post production getting rid of spots.



I'm not going to give exact settings for power of the background light and the bottom light as that is a personal creative choice and will vary depending on your equipment.  I will say that in my experience I try to use the lowest power setting available to provide the shortest flash duration. That being said, typically the bottom light needs to be a bit more powerful than the background light. 

You probably noticed in the image above that I have a beauty dish under the tank rather than just a bare speedlight.  The reason is that the drop will only have a small portion lit if you use the bare speedlight.  My guess is that the light that is reflected up into the drop comes more from the edges surrounding the drop than directly beneath it.  It is necessary therefore to diffuse the light from the bottom somehow.  I have used Vellum (drafting paper) and the white plexi, before moving to the 22" beauty dish with diffuser I now use.  For the background light you need something to act as a backdrop, I typically use white foam-core or tinfoil that has been balled up, although the latter seems to clutter things up a bit in my opinion.

These next couple of shots were done with the backdrop at the far end of the tank and a small piece of Vellum under the drop area.

The vellum proved problematic, as I was often fighting the edges of the paper and having them show up in the final image.  The white plexi loses a lot of light but yields a nice clean falloff.  After aquiring a beauty dish for my portrait work I decided to try it as the bottom light and really like the effect. As can be seen in these next images.

The second image uses crumpled tinfoil as a backdrop instead of the foam core.



The technique does work with white light and creates a nice clean feel.  I think it adds something to the image.  Granted I used a weak straw colored gel in these last two images for a hint of color.

I hope you have found this helpful and it adds to your creativity, now go shoot and have fun.


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