How To Photograph A Drop Of Water :: Digital Photo Secrets

How To Photograph A Drop Of Water

by David Peterson 6 comments

It seems simple enough. Taking a shot of a drop of water. You just want to take a picture of a water droplet. How hard could it be? Well, if you want a crystal clear image, you will need more equipment than just your camera. This isn’t something you can do without having a decent amount of equipment on hand. But don’t let that stop you from reading further. The results can be spectacular!

What you will need:
• A 2 inch deep rectangular plastic container for holding the water
• A piece of paper to bounce the flash off of
• Some tape to hold the paper in place
• A wireless flash
• A digital SLR camera with flash hotshoe
• A plastic baggie or water dropper to create the droplets
• A clamp to hold the plastic baggie in place
• A tripod

The Setup

Place the water-filled tray on a waist-high table. Prop up the piece of paper on the back end of the tray. Make sure the paper is lengthwise so it stands tall. Use tape to secure it.

Next, hang the plastic baggie over the water-filled tray. Don’t rely on friends and family members to hold the plastic baggie for you. It’s going to take a long time to take the pictures, and they will get tired. They also won’t be able to hold the bag still, something you will need if you are going to take pictures of the same spot over and over again.

Any kind of clamp system should do the job. Just make sure it doesn’t get in the way of the shot or the flash. I use the support beam above the table where I place my water droplet setup. I also use a clamp to hold everything in place. Do what works for you.

You’re also going to need a coffee can, or something of a similar size, to lift the flash over the water container. As long as the flash is high enough to shine light on the piece of paper, you’ll be fine.

You will need a remote activated flash. You don’t have to buy the most expensive kind on the market. Some of the cheap ones work pretty well. They won’t have all the automatic settings and sync capabilities, but you don’t really need that for this kind of job. Expect to pay between $50 to $100.

Point the flash at a 45 degree angle to the piece of paper at the back of the water container. This helps to make the light as uniform as possible. You will also want to reduce the power of your flash to 1/16th of its normal output.

If you can, find the whitest room in the house. You want the color of the light bouncing onto the water to be a uniform white.

Thanks to Tanja Labuschagne for this image

Taking The Pictures

Once everything is set up, poke a hole in the bottom of the baggie and take note of where the splashes occur. It’s good to keep a towel on hand through this process. Your gear will get a little wet. It won’t be a problem as long as you are vigilant about wiping off your camera.

Most people mess up this kind of shot when they are focusing. How do you know where to focus when you are shooting something that appears for just a few seconds? Here’s a trick. Use a pen to set the automatic focus.

Place the pen in the water where it’s splashing the most. Now all you need to do is look through your camera and focus on the pen. Once that’s done, simply switch back to manual mode and take your pictures on continuous fire.

Be aware that any jostling of your camera equipment can offset the focus. You may need to refocus several times throughout your shoot.

Because you have a flash to assist in the process, you have a little more flexibility with the aperture and shutter speed settings. I prefer an aperture of F8 and a shutter speed of 1/250s. If your pictures aren’t bright enough, you can always increase the flash until you like what you see.

The rest is up to you. Keep taking pictures of the splashing water until you find something you like. This can take a long time, but it’s very rewarding when you stumble upon something great. You should also experiment with the white balance. A slight change in these settings can create some really cool effects. I recommend using the fluorescent setting.

Finally, make sure you have all the equipment I mention above. To the right is one my first tries at getting this water droplet effect. There were many problems with this image, but the top three are: 1. Not having focus set exactly where the water droplet is; 2. Not using a flash, and not having bright enough lights in the room; and 3. Using a small plastic container with ridges. Don't make these mistakes yourself! Just remember the focusing trick. That’s where most people get thrown off.

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  1. Linda D Bonskowski says:

    David, I've done this in the past with varying degrees of success/flops! LOL One thing I don't understand in your directions is the bit about the can. Could you possibly post a picture of your set up? That would help me. (maybe even some others) Thanks! Linda

  2. Wayne says:

    DSLR can be substituted with a good micro 4/3rds?

  3. David Peterson says:

    Zelda, Yes there was a bit of post processing on the first image. But there was also a lot of post processing on my bad image too because the original was so bad.


  4. Belinda says:

    Hi David

    I did this project myself some months ago. Out of about 200 shots i got around 2 usable ones, so your tip about focusing on a pen is ideal for next time i try it.

    Also, i didn't have the water dropping from the same place. I was using an eye dropper, which moved as i did!! So, having something rigid is another good tip. Can send you a photo if you would be kind enough to give me further tips & critique it. (I used a square blue plastic water container, which gave the pic a lovely mood colour)

  5. Zelda says:

    Question - how much post processing did you do on that first image?

  6. Michel says:

    Hi David,
    Thanks for the tips!! I'll porbably give them a try 1 of these weeks during class (digital photographing).

    The picture you took and showed us at the bottom of this page let me think you were lying on your belly on the beach with a puddle right in front of you where you dropped something in. The back ground really looks our sea side during winter :-)

    Thanks again for you tips!

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.