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Although it’s unlikely that Cartier-Bresson had water drop photography in mind when he talked about the decisive moment, his words ring true when trying to capture the split-second moment a water drop hits the surface below it.
There are several high-tech and costly techniques you can use to get consistent and repeatable water drop shots, such as using electronically activated valves to produce accurately timed drops, and movement triggers that will fire your flash, but it’s surprising just what you can achieve using much simpler techniques and kit that costs just a few pounds.
First, think about how you will create the drops themselves. There are a number of ways to do this, including creating a tiny hole in a suspended plastic bag or using an eyedropper. The most important thing is to ensure that the drops fall in the same place each time, and that the frequency is reasonably predictable. We used a syringe and a small piece of tubing attached to a stand.
You’ll also need a container for the drops to fall into. Any dish or tray will do, but the depth will affect the shape of the droplet, and if you want to capture the reflection of the splash it needs to be large enough to avoid including the edge in your shot.
You can also try changing the viscosity and surface tension of the water. A small amount of washing-up liquid or rinse-aid will lower the surface tension, while adding glucose or glycerine liquid will produce a thicker solution.
It’s easy to get a little hooked on water drop photography, so once you’ve got the basic set-up right be prepared to spend hours pursuing the perfect shot. Here are five techniques you can use to capture very different water-drop images.
5 photo ideas for creative water drop photography
Change your viewpoint
Positioning the camera almost level with the surface of the liquid allows you to capture more of the drop’s reflection for an arty look.
Before the splash
You don’t have to capture the splash to create stunning images. Capturing the water droplets mid-flight can also result in beautiful images.
Inject some colour
Adding a food dye to the liquid is an easy way to add striking colour. You can also try adding different colours to the drop and static liquids.
Create multiple drops
Once you’ve mastered single drops you can try to capture images of the collision between two drops, with amazing results.
Try milk instead
Due to the very different viscosity and characteristics of the liquid, using milk instead of water will produce softer shapes.
A simple water drop photography set-up
And finally, for those wanting quick results, here is our simple guide to capturing water drops in action. You don’t need costly kit to get impressive results:
Step 1: Create the drops
We used a syringe and some plastic tubing attached to a simple clamp-stand to produce our drops. It’s important that the drop falls in the same place each time, and a small 1ml syringe allowed us to control the droplets accurately.
Step 2: Think about lighting
Placing a piece of frosted glass behind the water, then lighting it with the off-camera flash, proved to be the easiest way to light our drops. The flash was fired using a radio trigger, and was set to 1/32 power manually.
Step 3: Camera settings
With the camera on a tripod we used manual focus and exposure. Some test drops were used to set the focus by placing a ruler in the position where the droplets fell, then carefully pre-focusing on this point.