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Beginner’s Guide to Water Droplet Photography

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Have you ever looked at those great water droplet or splash images and found yourself scratching your head wondering how did they do that?

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Well, those great images are usually done in studios, with electronically programmable eyedroppers, and motion triggers that fire the camera at an exact split second, allowing the photographer to freeze motion on that exact perfect moment. All that specialized gear makes all this process controllable, but if you own a camera and an external flash, you can also give this type of photography a try.

Water drops are an interesting subject to photograph, as it gives you the opportunity to explore techniques you wouldn’t normally do, and will probably give you some great images to add to your portfolio.

In this article, I will give you some interesting tips on how to get started with water droplet photography, with just some basic equipment.

Gear

Besides your camera and lenses of choice, you will need an off-camera flash, and a wireless trigger or dedicated extension cable.

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Even though you can get great images without it, flashes with the high-speed sync (HSS) function will allow you to use shutter speeds above 1/250th, and freeze the motion much better.

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A shutter cable release is also a good accessory to use, as it will allows you to fire your camera without touching it.

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Finally you will need an eyedropper, or a wet sponge, with a system to hold it in place above a container with water. Usually I prefer to use a sponge, as it can produce bigger drop. I use a nano clamp and a gooseneck, attached to a tripod, to hold things in place.

Here is the complete setup:

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Safety

Electronics and water don’t get along very well, so will need to be extra careful when doing this type of photography. Safety first, so a good piece of advice, is to protect your equipment with cellophane wrap, so any accidental water spillage won’t damage it.

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Lighting

The first step is to keep in mind, that water is a specular surface, so you should not light the water but rather what the water reflects. Here I’m using white cardboard to bounce the light that reflects on the water surface.

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Exposure: ISO 2000, 1/8000, f/11

The f/11 aperture allows me to have some depth of field, and the 1/8000 shutter speed, together with the flash at full power on HSS mode, allows me to freeze the action.

You can get a lot of different effects with slower shutter speeds and different apertures. This is a plain simple image, but you can get creative in a lot of ways here. One thing I use a lot is colored gels in front of the flash, to create some dynamics in the image.

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Here I am mixing yellow and blue gels to create this colorful image.

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Timing

The perfect timing to press the shutter release is something really hard to accomplish, as it’s humanly impossible to be that accurate. But, with some practice, and a little bit of luck, you will end up some great shots. To be honest, the random nature of the results is something that I really enjoy.

Here is a sequence of images that didn’t work as good as the last one.

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Once you get the hang of it, you can experiment with food colorants and different liquids. Milk is a good choice, as it gives you drops with more consistency, and therefore best splashes.

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You are only limited by your imagination here. With some basic Photoshop skills, you can take your images to the next level with some photo composites, like this image I created for a strawberry yogurt advertisement campaign.

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So, there are some basic techniques to produce great water droplet images, without specialized equipment or motion triggers. Give it a try, I’m sure you’ll get great results!

This week on dPS we are featuring articles on special effects. Check out the others that have already been published here:

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Ivo Guimaraes is a Portuguese photographer and college teacher. His passion for lighting and image editing has gotten him to the next level in studio photography and led him to work with leading brands in the Portuguese market. You can check some more of his work on his blog and Youtube channel.

  • Such great tips. I just started getting into photography and I have so many things I want to try. Bloglovin is great as I just keep saving them hoping to get to them all. Would like to get the hang of my new camera before we move to Italy – any moment. Thank you. ouritalianjourney.com

  • Katie Wallace

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  • Dan Merkel

    FWIW, I went to my local vet’s office and asked for a used IV bag. I told the lady what I wanted it for and she gave me not only a bag that had only had saline solution in it but also gave me the “drip” mechanism. That is s little plastic channel with a piece of plastic that slides in it that fits over the plastic tube. The farther forward the little plastic piece is pushed, the less frequent the water drops.
    The nice thing about this is that you can set the timing of the droplets to a fairly consistent speed and it makes taking the shots much easier, especially if you get in rhythm with the droplets.
    dlm

  • Dan Merkel

    Here’s one that I did… se below…
    dlm

  • Jyothi Prakash

    Here’s Mine..

  • Jyothi Prakash

    Here’s Mine.

  • Sai Krupa Chary Arendra

    Here’s mine

    tried this in a swimming pool without any equipment..
    just used my canon sx50hs

  • Sai Krupa Chary Arendra

    here’s mine
    shot this in a swimming pool
    without any extra equipment
    shot it with my canon sx50hs

  • Mark

    What a great idea! Thaks for sharing it.

  • Sujatha Dilip

    Lovely pictures by everyone of you!
    I am new to this group…
    I would like to know how to upload pictures here?

  • Nigel Burn

    And here is a couple of mine that I had a modicum of success with.

  • Nigel Burn

    And then I tried something different.

  • Zaid Kamil

    My work

  • Olivia White

    Welcome! I hope nobody minds if I answer your question!
    When you click the reply button and can start typing, you will notice, in the lower lefthand corner of the box, a small picture icon, with the two mountains and the sun on it. (When you hover over it it should say “Upload photos”) Click on it, and you are able to browse your photos. Select one, and wait for it to appear next to the picture icon. The pictures will look small until you click post, when they will look like the others here.
    I hope this helps you!

  • Sujatha Dilip

    Hi Olivia!
    Tried it….and it works.
    Thank you so much!

  • Olivia White

    Yay! 🙂

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