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How to Make Water Droplet Photographs

This is not about capturing a water drop in mid-air, or just after it strikes a water surface. Rather, it is a technique for making water-drop based still life photos or “set-ups.”


The objective is to capture a subject in a random group of water drops so that the image refracted in each droplet is reversed and in sharp focus in each one while the original image is blurred. (Please refer to the examples below.)


Here’s how to do it:


Take two boxes or plastic “milk cartons,” the size doesn’t matter, but about one or two feet high. Place them on the floor. A concrete floor such as your garage works well because you won’t be spilling water on a carpet or nice wood floor, and it cleans up easily. Then lay a piece of glass (an 18” x 24” glass from a photo frame) is about right, on top of the two boxes that are spread apart as much as possible, but with enough overlap of the glass to provide stability to the glass. (Clean the glass before “assembling” the still life “platform”.)


Add some glycerin (a liquid available in a Pharmacy) to a spray bottle….. not much, start with a small amount and if the results are inadequate, add more glycerin. Spray the glass. It should “bead up” as well as wet the surface of the glass. In order to get some larger water droplets, use an eye-dropper to pick up some small droplets and add them to a larger one. You can make new droplets and you can move them around in this way.


Place the subject of your still-life on the floor between the two boxes and beneath the glass platform. The subject can be a flower, or flowers, a dish of M&Ms, a plate of costume jewelry, a small flag, or anything colorful. Here’s where your artistic skills get an opportunity to work. Illuminate the subject with one or two small portable lamps or lamp bulbs, preferably LEDs of the color that works best. Warm is a lower number, cool is higher, colorless is 5000 degrees Kelvin. Move the lights around to light the image that is the subject of your shoot.


Place your camera on a tripod, best if it has a horizontal (sideways) arm, so that it is pointing exactly straight down while placed directly above the glass sheet. Use a small camera body or carpenter’s bubble level to get it right. Here’s where the fun begins. Knowing your camera’s Depth of Field characteristics, set the exposure and focal length so that the refracted images IN the glycerin-water droplets are in focus and the original item on the floor is out of focus. What you want to get is a frame full of sharp water droplets each of which has a mirror image refraction of the original subject while at the same time, the original subject goes out of focus: “blurry.” Sometimes you may want to do “focus stacking” several exposures all within the water droplet. There are no rules, just suggestions, and a lot of creativity. You may find it helpful to remove the memory card from your camera and view your images in your photo editor (PS or PSE, etc.) and then make adjustments.


I first saw the results of one of these shoots at a competition where that image won Best of Show, so I asked the photographer how she had done it, and here we are….. Enjoy.




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