Water Drop Experiments

This week I have taken some time to get back into water drop photography and try adding some backgrounds into the equation for the first time.

For those not familiar with the technique behind water drop photography then the main point to remember is that shutter speed isn’t the key to grabbing the split second action – instead the aim is to use the flash to freeze the drop in mid air in a dark room, leaving the exposure to effectively be as long as is necessary. Using this technique it’s possible to get some fantastic results and I’ll share some links to others much more adept at the technique than myself.


With one SB800 speedlight then I was fairly limited in the set up I could tinker with, so I opted to light the drop from the left  with a reflector on the right. I dripped the drop into a tray covered in foil and used a baby’s bottle suspended from the bottom of an old tripod (using sellotape) to provide the drips. I added a background very close to the back of the tray of a Union “Jack” towel, and I coloured the dripping water red using food colouring.

With my set up complete I set about positioning the camera. I used another tripod to get the camera where I wanted it and initially set the camera up 20cm from the target drip with my Sigma F2.8 90mm macro lens. The aperture was set to F11 and I allowed the shutter speed to be controlled by the camera. Finally I the set the on-camera flash into “Controller” mode and then did some test shots to see what flash setting gave me a good exposure – I eventually settled on 1/32. Finally, with the lights on, I used a pencil to set the focus where the drips would fall and set the camera to manual.


I quickly found problems with my “dropper”, the bottle initially dripped as I wanted but quickly stopped and I found myself having to squeeze the teat of the baby bottle to produce drips. This in turn meant it was harder to hit the focus point as I disturbed the bottle or aimed the drops wrongly.

Capturing the drops too is also a problem, with the lights off too its even harder. A lot of trial and error ensued but I soon found a rhythm where my drop squeeze and trigger (using the remote trigger) were hardly separated and this produced some good results. However I quickly noticed as I captured drops that while I was capturing some real close up action I was also building in a very shallow depth of field, so splashes weren’t entirely in focus front to back. The aperture didn’t make enough difference and as I raised it I conversely had to increase the flash meaning the drips weren’t “freezing” as I wanted them to due to the light I was bouncing around the room.

After a while I decided to move the camera back a further 15cm to give myself a shallower depth of field and keep the flash as low as I needed. This meant refocusing and also meant more background in the shot as the field of view opened up. However the results were much better.


First some near misses from the hundreds of “out-takes” the hit and miss nature of the technique produced.

Near-miss 1

Near-miss 2


Now two of the better shots from the session – the first has been converted to mono and a colour cast added which I thought suited the subject, giving it a watery feel. The second shows the flag in the drop better.

Splash down




Next time I try water drops I will try and get a better dropper – these can be purchased online with a “time machine” kit that allows you to sync up the camera and is undoubtedly how some of the fantastic shots below are produced, however I’m not sure I’m quite there yet. Perhaps I will investigate homemade alternatives.

Also I think a photograph as the background might be a good thing to try, it would perhaps allow an easier way to get it positioned in the drop as it’s reflected.

Finally I think two speedlights might improve the result with one lighting the background and the other lighting the drop.


To see some fantastic shots from Stephen Max Reinhold and Martin Waugh try the link below:

Stephan Max Reinhold - http://www.liquid-art-gallery.com/artwork/overview.html

Martin Waugh - http://www.liquidsculpture.com/fine_art/index.htm

Thanks for reading – I look forward to any comments.


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