A few weeks ago I gave a presentation to the PhotoVenture Camera Club here in Indianapolis on Macro Photography. I unfortunately wasn’t as prepared for that presentation as I’d have liked to have been because I hadn’t shot water droplets and I wanted to show them something that I know a lot of people have interest in (other than bugs, flowers and diamonds of course). So at the end of my presentation I made sure to specifically promise an in depth tutorial about shooting water droplets. Here we go…

List of materials needed is as follows:
-Colored background (important)
-At least 1 strobe that can be fired either via wireless flash, pocket wizard, or off camera cable
-Water (duh)
-Plastic Baggie
-Trash can
-Paper towels
-Thumb Tack
-Cable release
-Fishbowl, large snack bowl, Flower Vase, Basically a glass or plastic transparent vessel to put water into

The thing to remember is that you may not get this on the first try, but once you get the idea you’ll get some really cool stuff. You’ll want to set your camera to Manual Focus and set it to where you think the water drops will land. (AIm for the middle of whatever you are using to drop them into). Keep in mind that you aren’t going to have much depth of field to work with if you are using a macro lens and are getting close up. So you may not get sharp shots every time, but keep at it as it’ll take a few drops. I used Ziplock bags and a regular thumbtack to make the hole to start the drips, because that’s what I had on hand and because the plastic in those bags is usually pretty good meaning that the hole wasn’t going to tear and create a waterfall on me.

The REAL key here is the light. You don’t actually light the water droplets, you light the background. Water is transparent, and has very similar qualities to glass in some aspects. The easiest way to light glass is to light around it. This is why you want colored backgrounds. I took things one step further, buy providing two colored backgrounds. In my case it was Red and Blue, which gave the overall feel of the water a red one, but gave the highlights of the water a blue hue.

I used a cable release as to avoid touching the camera while firing the shutter. Like I said, you have kind of a slim depth of field while doing this, so any bit of camera movement you can avoid would be good. Also if I did it again I’d find a much larger vessel to put the water into, the smaller vase worked alright, but I’d rather shoot through as little glass as possible for something like this. Every layer of glass between you and your subject is a texture, blur, or other that can get in the way of the sharpness of your image.

(Photo By Brad Clampitt on his iPhone to illustrate the lighting of the background)

It doesn’t look like much (and the video was towards the end when I was getting faster while looking for drop on drop action) but believe it or not that setup can yield results….

The final image is here:

(Nikon D3, 320ISO, Nikon 105mmF2.8VR Macro, 1/125th@F25. Nikon SB-900 Speedlight zoomed to 135mm fired into the red binder sleeve behind the vase set to 1/4th power Fired by Pocket Wizard. Camera fired by MC-36 Digital Remote Release. Side note: the above photo shows two speedlights. Only one was firing, the other was setup in case I wanted another one, which I didn’t)

I’ll have to say that I was pleased with the result, yet at the same time there are things I’d have done differently, which is mostly getting a larger tank. Keep in mind that it takes some time to get the timing down, and you wont get this on your first try. I took 576 shots yesterday afternoon while doing this, and there are a lot where the drops didn’t land where the camera was focused, or where i was just a little too slow, or fast to catch it. To avoid this problem you can buy or make an audio trigger for your camera. I however just decided to wing it, and burn a few shots. I learned a lot, and I hope anyone that reads this learns a few things too. Coming up I’ve got a few interesting entries. One details the use of a Nikon D2x while shooting a concert along side a Much newer and more advanced D700. Others include the engagement of some friends as seen below, so definitely check back because as always: More Soon.

(Nikon D3, 200ISO, Nikon 18-35mmF3.5-4.5@24mm, 1/160@F22. Single Nikon SB-900 Speedlight set to TTL +3 held on the end of a light stand by Joseph Lee fired by an on camera SB-900 set to master mode.)