Water Drop Magic – a fun photo technique

This is what I do when I’ve got some spare time to play!  I’m calling this “water drop magic” because with a simple technique you can create some totally cool photographs. The magic of this technique is not so much capturing the water drops splashing, but taking advantage of the reflective properties of water.

Below is a picture of my setup – a glass baking dish that I filled with about 1” of water and a cheap, old flash that I connected to the PC terminal of my camera.  There’s also two bottles – one I filled with water and the other with a really watery gray acrylic paint mixture. I also am showing a small painting that I used to capture the color.  I used several different small abstract paintings as well as colored papers to get the different color patterns in the shots.

All photos © Colleen D. Gjefle

This was my simple setup

I put my Canon 5D Mark II camera on a tripod and connected it to the flash. I used my Sigma 50mm macro lens since it’s really a fabulous little lens for close-up work. I set the camera to fully manual operation so I could control everything. I also set it to continuous shooting mode. There is some variation in my settings depending on the background and such but here’s an overview:  the ISO was in the 400 – 800 range, the speed was kept between 1/200 – 1/250 to sync with the flash, my aperture was kept between f/7.1 to f/10 to maximize my depth of field since the water drops will land in somewhat different spots.

I used a really, really old flash that I got off eBay for only about $10 including the shipping. It has only two power output settings – full and 1/16 power. I set it to 1/16 since it’s so close to the target. Since it was so cheap, I wasn’t too worried about it getting wet.

I set my camera and tripod close to the table to use my left hand to drip the water into the dish and push the shutter button with my right.  I first did a few test drips to see about where the drops were landing in the dish. Then I held my left hand at that spot, look through my viewfinder and use the autofocus on my lens to on my fingers. Once it got a good focus lock, I turned the lens to manual focus and made sure not to move the camera.

Time to start shooting!  I slowly squeezed water out of the bottle and held the shutter button down. Since the camera is in continuous shooting mode, it takes several shots in just a few seconds. The flash was only outputting at 1/16 power, so it recycled quickly and I got only a handful of shots where the flash didn’t go off.

Below are a couple photos of “just the water” with no color reflections except in the background. Fun by itself, but throw in anything that will reflect in the water and you can really get some eye-stopping (and water-stopping) shots.

A nice fairly high splace in plain waterA splash with plain water

To get colored reflections, you can put almost anything with color behind your dish.  I used pieces of color paper, paintings and some small, colorful children’s pails from the dollar store.  How much reflection you get depends on how close to the water they’re sitting as well as the angle you shoot at.  You get different effects depending on whether you have your camera sitting almost level with the water drops & splashes, or if you shoot from higher up looking down.

For variation, I mixed up a really watery, diluted mixture of water and gray acrylic paint. It gives really different effects depending on whether it’s reflecting lots colors or if the gray is allowed to be the primary color.  The acrylic paint adds just enough viscosity and opacity to produce some very cool results:

A final note on the post processing: I use Lightroom 3 for importing all the raw images I shoot. I boosted the clarity and contrast on all the photos, and used just a little bit of noise reduction.  I had to lower the exposure on a few shots as well, but overall, there was little “tweaking” I needed to do.

This is a fun, simple way to create some really impressive photos, so if you try it yourself, I’d love to hear about it. Cheers and happy shooting!

1 Comment

  1. These are remarkable! It’s hard to image plain old h2o can look like this. I dont have a fancy camera but I will try this. Thanks for the instructions.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *