Phil’s water drop technique
Well here is my method of photographing water drops in motion. Let be first say that patience is a much needed asset for this process. I’ll start with my setup. I typically have my camera mounted to a tripod. I use my D700 (using between 5000-8000 shutter speed and between 10-30 aperture) with the 105mm macro lens set on manual focus mode. It allows you to get close to the image yet stay far enough away from it. In the picture below, I have altered a few things.
The first thing that was altered in the picture above is the method by which the drops are released. I used a plastic bag with a very small hole in one corner. After trying this, it yielded too small of a droplet falling and the impact was not “explosive” enough when coming into contact with another object (mainly water). I changed the bag of water to a 2x4 with a hole big enough to get an eye dropper through.
The second thing I changed was the location of my remote SB-900 flash. I noticed that the greater the angle, the more the light penetrated below the surface of the water, capturing the color, texture, and appearance of the bottom of the water basin you are using. From the picture, I moved the flash to the surface level of the stove, keeping it an inch or two above the surface level of the water. This allowed me to “skip” the slight off of the surface of the water.
The third thing I changed was the elevation of my camera. I tried to keep it slightly higher than the flash, so when the flash triggered, it didn’t shoot directly into the lens.
The fourth thing was changed is the water in the basin. Even though changing the elevation of the flash to narrow the reflection off of the water, I was still getting some light penetrating below the surface of the water. I added just a bit of milk to the basin to eliminate the problem. The total amount of milk added was right about ¼ of a cup…just enough to cloud the water, but not enough to make the water drops opaque once they rebounded up from the impact of the drop. I still wanted light to penetrate through the drop with a sort of translucent effect. Notice in the below example how the water drop itself is 100% clear, but the rebounding water from the basin is slightly cloudy.
The 5th thing I changed…well, added, was a remote trigger for my camera. I noticed that when I tried to shoot by using the normal trigger on my D700, it would ever so slightly change the positioning of the camera. With the 105mm macro lens in manual mode, even the slightest change to its focus would result in a blurry image
The 6th thing I changed is the cans. I really don’t like beans, so I swapped them out for a more tasty selection of pie filling. This however, is best determined by the personal taste of the photographer.
Outside of those alterations, I have found the optimal height from which to drop the water into the pan was between 12-24 inches. Anything lower than 12 inches didn’t have enough mass to displace sufficient amounts of water to get a rebound column for the next drop to collide into. Anything greater than 24 inches created more of a movement of water away from the impact area…creating more of a crater effect. See below.
Through many trial and error shots, I have found the hardest thing to achieve is the actual releasing of drops with the proper spacing. The goal is to have 2 drops falling. By the time the first one hits and rebounds to create a water column, the next drop is right behind to impact with the top of the column. If it goes as planned, you will get a shot like this (or some variation of it).
The other hard part is the timing of when to shoot the shot. Depending from how high the drop falls, I generally tried to take the shot almost immediately after the 2nd drop was on its way down. I will say that you may have the perfect setup, but just getting the feel of releasing the drops and triggering the camera to take a shot can be the most frustrating part of the entire process.
Lastly, adding one color to the water basin and another color to the eye dropper gives you the ability to go in after the shot is done and do a bit of PP to the image to either enhance or change the colors.
My word of advice, be patient. Getting the shot you are looking for may take a while since the window of opportunity is so narrow. The best part about this whole process is that depending on the user, the results can vary greatly. I have enjoyed looking at each persons shots, they are all unique and bring a very different feel from one image to the next.
Feel free to use my technique or one completely different. But don’t stop posting photos, water drop ones or not…there is a wide variety of talent here. I love enjoying what everyone brings!