Often the key to making a good photo is to show the commonplace in a whole new way. Bombarded by so many visual images each day, photo viewers need something that breaks the rules, that looks different to make them pause on your photo. This sparkling water still life technique will challenge your photo skills. It will teach you how to compose and light still life subjects, give you practice with editing tools and techniques, and help you create interesting images. Maybe best of all, you’ll have some fun.
Perhaps another plus to this kind of photography (I write this holed up at home during isolation), is it can be done at home on the kitchen counter or wherever you like to work. You can then post your creation online, giving us all the enjoyment of viewing your image.
Shall we get started? Break out the bubbly!
What you’ll need
You can use various kinds of carbonated waters or sodas (perhaps champagne if you’re feeling decadent). What you’re after are the bubbles. There are no rules here and so use what suits your vision.
For the images here, I found seltzer water well-suited to the purpose. It is crystal-clear, has good carbonation, and with no sugar added doesn’t leave a sticky mess when it comes time for cleanup.
What you use will depend on the image you’re trying to create. I found a rectangular glass vase with flat sides well-suited for the purpose. A small aquarium could work well.
Of course, if the subject and the theme you seek are different, wine or champagne glasses could work too. The only consideration here is to think about how the glass may distort anything placed inside it.
There is no end to the items you might choose to submerge for a sparkling water still life photograph. I found that things that seem consistent with the theme to be good choices. The kinds of things one might find in a watery-bubbly environment.
Fruits and flowers can be good choices. You’ll also see I used shells and other aquatic items. Of course, other items with good color and interest become even more interesting covered with bubbles.
A quick dip into some science behind all of this – items with rougher surfaces, those with more nucleation sites where bubbles can form, can be more interesting. The flowers in my shots demonstrate this concept. Bubbles won’t form as easily on smoother, non-porous surfaces.
Most often, you will be shooting close-up, very possibly with a macro lens, for this kind of photography. The smallest of items, scratches, and dirt on the glass container, dirt and other material suspended in the water and such, will all show up and perhaps even become places where bubbles might form.
You should scrupulously clean the container you will be using before you get started. Doing so will save you lots of time later trying to remove unwanted specks from your photo digitally.
Using your cleaned container, place the subject(s) you want inside before adding any liquid. Consider whether the subjects will float. Even if they are just slightly buoyant, once they are covered with bubbles, they are apt to get some extra lift. Be ready with some clamps, wire, tape, or other means of keeping them submerged and where you want them.
Compose and frame your shot. Depending on the subject size and how close you need to be, you may find a macro lens is needed. Other alternatives could be extension tubes, close-up filters, or a reversed-lens.
If you don’t need to be as close, you might put your camera further away and zoom into the shot.
NOTE: Do all of this before adding the water to the container. The bubbles will dissipate with time and you don’t want that happening while you’re still setting up.
This is a great opportunity to experiment with lighting sources and techniques.
Working in a glass container gives you the opportunity to light from almost any direction; top, bottom, front, back, left, right, or a combination of these. Whether you use flash, continuous lights, natural lighting, whatever you can come up with – it’s all up to you.
Definitely use this exercise as an opportunity to play and explore. Digital film is cheap. This shouldn’t be a one-and-done kind of shoot. Make lots of shots, exploring lighting placement, various apertures and shutter speeds, light modifiers, whatever you like.
The addition of bubbles to your subject will cause it to become a “busier” composition. Having a patterned background is apt to distract or overly complicate the image.
I find solid backgrounds, and often plain white or black to work best. (I’ll get into the advantages of those simple white or black backgrounds in a minute.) Again, this will depend on the look you are trying to achieve, but do give consideration to not only your subject but the background.
Editing and cleanup
I can almost guarantee your image will need some work in editing after the shoot. Simplifying and cleaning up things you don’t want will be necessary.
Adjusting highlights, shadows, white and black levels, and cloning out distractions will all improve your photo. Whatever your editing tools of choice might be, use this exercise as a means of teaching yourself more about what you can do and how to do it.
My tools of choice are Adobe Lightroom Classic and Photoshop.
Having a white or black background can help a lot in that with adjustments, the adjustment brush, the histogram highlight and shadow clipping tools, and the spot healing tool, I can often do whatever I need in Lightroom alone.
For tougher cloning or healing operations, I may escalate the edit into Photoshop.
Images with color backgrounds are apt to be more challenging. Again, use this exercise as a means of learning tools and techniques you might not have previously explored.
Often while making a sparkling water still life, your subject will be down in the liquid. Don’t overlook the simple ability to flip your image vertically during editing to put it in a more natural viewing position.
Maybe the biggest reason for this table-top photo exercise is it is fun. You will be amazed at how you can make otherwise simple subjects much more visually exciting with the addition of some bubbles and creative lighting when you make sparkling water still life photos.
So, if you have to stay home, why not find ways to creatively use your time to expand your photo skills and make some nice images?
Give it a try, post your creations in the comments section of this article and be well my friends.