Water Drops

I like doing water drop photos for four reasons: 1) it looks deceptively simple, 2) the challenge in capturing the moment of impact, 3) the surprising images you can capture, and 4) the fact there is no right way to do it.  For my most recent attempt at water drop photography, I light the drop from below, so the light would come up through the water.  This is different compared to other water drop photos where they light from the side or from above.  I feel lighting the drops from below give them more of a liquid glass appearance and an inner glow.

Surprisingly, the set up for these photos was relatively simple.  I used the following items:
  •         large edged baking sheet (to catch any overflow),
  •         a bowl (to protect the flash equipment),
  •         a flash with radio trigger,
  •         an upside down aquarium (water drop platform),
  •         backdrop stand (to hang water bag from),
  •         Ziploc sandwich bag,
  •     paper towels,
  •         tape (to attach the bag to the stand),
  •         food coloring,
  •     tinfoil backdrop (reflects light),
  •         a pin (to puncture the water bag), 
  •         tripod,
  •         camera with a 60mm macro lens,
  •         remote trigger, and
  •         water.   

I placed the flash equipment inside a bowl on the baking sheet, and covered it with an upside down aquarium.  I then dropped water onto the what was the bottom of the aquarium as the flash lit the surface from below (see photo of set up).  

Set up
Set up

To make this work I used radio-triggered flashes, in high-speed sync mode, so I could go over the native flash speed sync of 1/250s.  For most of these photos, I was using a shutter speed between at 1/800s and 1/1200s with an aperture of F8 to F16 at ISO 400 with a flash power of 1/32 to 1/64. I found if I went to high in the flash power it would blow out areas of the water drop.  I used the smaller aperture to increase my depth of field, so more of the image would be in focus and allow for variation of drop placement.  I pre-focused the camera using a pinhead, and then locked the focus so it would be consist throughout the photos, since it is difficult to focus on a falling water drop.  I had my camera set to high-speed mode and used a remote trigger. I used high-speed so I could get the maximum frame rate, thus increasing my chances of capturing the drop.  However, this technique also increased my number of blank photos.  Now I did this twice, the first time I took around 512 photos and kept 44, which is an 8-percent success rate, and the second time I took 623 photos and kept 30, which is about a 5-percent success rate.  It should be noted while I kept 44 photos from the first session, I think about 10 are presentable, because I did not uses a remote trigger and you can see camera shake and the glass was not clean so there were speckles in the photos.  Thus, the success rate of the firs try is closer to 2-percent.

As you can see in the examples of the first attempt, the water drops are not perfectly crisp and there are some dust specks on the water surface.  

ISO 800, Aperture F8, Shutter Speed 1/320s
ISO 800, Aperture F8, Shutter Speed 1/320s
ISO 400, Aperture F8, Shutter Speed 1/320s

For the second attempt, I did several photos with just the flash lighting from below, but added a diffuser to the flash to reduce blown out areas in the water drop.  I also decided to add a second hand held flash with a radio trigger to light the drops from the side; however, this removed the nice dark surface I was getting and exposed the flash underneath the drop.  

ISO 400, Aperture F16, Shutter Speed 1/1250s
ISO 400, Aperture F16, Shutter Speed 1/1250s
ISO 400, Aperture F9, Shutter Speed 1/1000s, also side lit
ISO 400, Aperture F9, Shutter Speed 1/1000s, also side lit
Overall, I like how the lighting worked, but am happier with the second set of images as compared to the first.  You can see all my variation on the water drop photo here. 


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