How to Photograph Water Droplets on Glass

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A little creativity at home can be a lot of fun in photography. In this article, you’ll see how you can make some miniature worlds with some water droplets and a piece of glass!

The process is straightforward enough, you just need some magic sauce. We’ll get to the magic sauce, and why that works in a moment. So let’s take a look at this how-to guide for photographing water droplets.

How to Photograph Water Droplets on Glass

Who can resist photographing the club badge of their favorite sports team?

The equipment you’ll need

With the exception of the camera equipment, all the items you’ll need for this can be found around the home. The following is a guide to that equipment, but you may have other alternatives as well:

  • The glass – You’ll need to find a piece of glass to put the water on. This must be cleaned, so there are no marks. Glass from a picture frame is the obvious source.
  • The stand – A pile of books with a gap in the middle will work here, once again use what you have at hand. You will need to have two piles of books, with the glass bridging the gap. Each pile needs to be around 20cm (8″) high.
  • A background – This is the picture or patterned paper that you wish to appear in the water droplets when you photograph them.
  • A camera – Ideally this will be a DSLR, though any camera that allows for macro photography will work. A camera that allows you to use off-camera flash is better still.
  • The lighting – You have two options here, to use strobes or to use a spotlight. Your result will be better with a strobe that it triggered by a remote attached to the camera hot-shoe. If this is unavailable you could use spotlights to light up the background, the brighter the better.
  • A tripod – A tripod to put your camera on, is the key to ensuring the sharp focus of the water droplets. You can use the camera handheld, but the results will be less sure.
  • The water – A water dropper will be needed to place the water droplets on the glass.
  • The magic sauce -You’ll need some car windscreen water repellent. Using this will make the water form droplets on the glass.
How to Photograph Water Droplets on Glass

Here is some of the equipment needed for photographing water droplets on glass. The most important product to get is Rain X.

The setup

The above equipment now needs to be set up ready to photograph water droplets. This is an easy process, so just follow these steps:

  1. Create two piles of books. These should be around 20cm (8″) in height, and with a large enough gap to fit your background between them.
  2. Clean the glass, ensuring that there are no marks on it.
  3. Place the piece of glass on top of the two piles of books, arranging it so that it bridges the gap between the piles. Be careful with the glass, try to avoid breaking it!
  4. Spray the glass with the rain repellent. Wipe away the excess liquid, and then allow it to dry. This should happen fairly quickly.

    ***The repellent is flammable, so again, please take care handling this liquid.***

  5. Now place some water drops onto the glass using the dropper. The pattern of drops and proximity of each of them to one another is up to you.
  6. Place your background between the two piles of books.
  7. Place your light source over the background. Make sure it’s not going to shine on the glass first, the aim is to bounce the light off the background and back up through the glass.
  8. Position your tripod next to the plate of glass.
  9. Put your camera on the tripod so it is aiming down through the glass. Ensure the tripod is steady and doesn’t tilt or tip over with the weight of the camera body.
How to Photograph Water Droplets on Glass

This is the main setup I used for taking these photos. The strobe is not in the right position yet, it should be aimed at the striped background.

How to take the photograph

With the setup complete, you’re now ready to take the photos. The following is a step-by-step guide on how to do this:

  1. Focus your camera on a section of the glass plate with an interesting water drop formation. To get the sharpest focus turn off the camera’s autofocus and use manual. Now turn on Live View mode, zoom into a droplet (using the magnify view button), and focus the lens manually until the image is sharp.
  2. Move the background around to ensure it’s in the best position. You’ll want to look at both how it looks in the water droplets, and also as a background behind them.
  3. The camera settings you use can be varied, the following are a guide or starting point. The strobe you’re using may vary in strength, but there is certainly no need for full power. A Canon 430ex II at 1/32 power is sufficient. An aperture of f/9 and a shutter speed of 1/60th was used for the photos in this article.
  4. Once you have your photo check your results. You could now focus on some different droplets, move the background, or change the background.

The demonstration photos I took for this article didn’t quite work. In Korea, I was unable to buy Rain X, and the brand I did buy, didn’t work in the same way.

Now it’s your turn!

This, of course, is a form of refraction photography, and not the only way to photograph water droplets.

Have you tried this method, or something similar? How about showing the community your work in the comments section, either past or new images. This is an easy technique to try out at home, and anyone can do it. So why not have a go!?

How to Photograph Water Droplets on Glass

Here Rain X was used, and the difference is clear. In the background are some colored pencils.

How to Photograph Water Droplets on Glass

At the time these photos were taken I was living in Malaysia, so this is the Malaysian flag.

How to Photograph Water Droplets on Glass

This was my first attempt at this style of photo, at this point I wasn’t using Rain X.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Simon Bond is a specialist in creative photography techniques and is well known for his work with a crystal ball. His work has featured in national newspapers and magazines including National Geographic Traveler. With over 8 years of experience in crystal ball photography Simon is the leading figure in this field, get some great tips by downloading his free e-book! Do you want to learn more about crystal ball photography? He has a video course just for you! Use this code to get 20% off: DPS20.

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