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Water droplet photography tutorial

Water Droplet photography tutorial.
A step by step guide on how to take water droplet images like the ones i have taken below, using a dslr and off camera flash.

I’ve always wanted to capture water droplets as I find the uniqueness of the shapes fascinating.

When I first started out in photography back in 2011,  I tried capturing several shots of water droplets and had great fun experimenting and learning.

My set up back then was on a budget and apart from the camera equipment, I used d.i.y material sourced from around the house and the local stationary store.

This guide will show you ‘step by step’ what I used to take the water droplet photos I have posted.

Step 1: camera settings

tamron 90mm speedlite wireless trigger photography

In order to take sharp macro shots with your dslr, especially of water droplets , you will need to have a dedicated macro lens. A cheaper option would be to buy a close up lens or use extension tubes for your existing lens.

You will also need at least one, off camera flash unit, this can be a TTL compatible flash or any 3rd party flash used on manual mode, with a wireless remote trigger and shutter release cable (i use a £20 2nd hand flash – set to ‘manual’ mode )

Camera settings

f11 aperture
1/125 shutter speed
200 iso

I also experimented with the cameras WB to change the colour range in some shots.

My Equipment:
Nikon D5000 dslr camera (you can use any camera that allows you to change aperture and shutter speed)
Tamron 90mm Macro lens (try macro functions, extension tubes if you do not have a dedicated macro lens)
Off camera Flash x 1 (if you have more use them but for basic images like what I have taken here 1 is enough)
3 x Wireless remote trigger (you could use the  flash sync mode, camera timer or ttl if this option is not for you)
1 x mini tripod (mine is like a gorillapod but doesnt have a name and was alot cheaper £8.99)
1 x 5in1 reflector (mine is 22″ £4.99 )

 

Step 2: Equipment for diy studio set up

reflector highspeed photography dslr camera

Additional Equipment
1x step ladders (anywhere/anything else a bag of water can be suspended from – possibly a door frame)
1 x glass pyrex kitchen cooking bowl (£2.99)
1 x black clipboard (£0.69)
1 x pack of neon paper (£0.50)
1 x pack of holographic paper (£0.50)you will also need a container or bag for the water to drop out of and something to seal the bag withWhat I am using:
1 x fold over sandwich bag (pack of 50 £0.50)
2 x stationary clips (pack of 12 (£0.69)
1 x Badge or safety pin (£0.10)

Step 3: Setting up the equipment

high speed water drop photography tutorial

Setting up the equipment

Place the glass bowl underneath the ladders and place the black clip board behind the glass bowl – Now place your flash to the side of the glass bowl and facing the clip board, position your camera (not shown in these clips) on the tripod approx 12″ away from where the water droplet should fall

The black clipboard can hold any background paper or card you wish to use and will change the colours of your water droplet pictures – try different designs and textures for some amazing images through the water.

You can also try using a reflector as a background and bouncing the flash off the reflector for more colour ranges in your droplets. Or try placing different coloured card underneath the glass dish – (for my droplet images I used black card under the glass bowl.

Once you have set up your equipment, its now time to be a big kid again and play & experiment with water Yeay :)
Just make sure you have a towel or cloth ready to wipe up any splashes – remember camera’s and water –do NOT mix !!!!

Step 4: Preparing the water for the droplets

diy water drop photography guide step by step
Fill the glass bowl with  water – I fill mine halfway (1″) – I have been told the shallower the water, the more crown type water shots – the deeper the water the more chance of water orbs and columns – choose whichever style suits you best :)Then with the remaining water from the jug, fill the plastic bag 1/3 with water
seal the bag – or fold over like the bag i used for my photos
Clip the two stationary clips to the top of the bag so it is secure (or use sticky tape or masking tape)Attach the bag to the underneath of the ladder using the clips to secure, if your ladder doesnt have anywhere for the clips to attach you could also try using some garden wire to attach the clips to the ladder.

Step 5: Releasing the droplet

water droplet photography help dslr

Make a small hole in the bag of water with a safety pin from the badge, this allows droplets to fall into the glass bowl at a slow steady rate. – You can also experiment with different sizes of holes to reduce or increase the flow rate of the water.

Step 6: Focus where the droplet will be landing

 Focusing water droplet photography tutorial

I used a serrated edged knife to focus my lens, approx 2cm above the point at which the droplet hits the water in the bowl. – if you dont have a knife or you want to use something safer, you can also use a ball point pen or ruler to focus the camera on the spot at which you want to capture the detail like shown below.

water droplet photography focusing dslr camera

Another handy tip is to point a torch at the spot when you are focusing on the knife/pen as this helps your eyes get a sharp focus

Step 7: Start clicking and capture your perfect water droplet

double water droplet photography highspeed crimson

The rest is down to timing and personal preference – count how long your droplets take to hit the water, press your remote trigger or set the timer for the moments after the droplet hits the surface of the water – remember a droplet performs a crown a stalk and then an orb if the water is deep enough.

  • Take lots of shots, dslr cameras can cope with this – have fun learning what the droplets do with the rate of flow
  • The water in the bag lasts for about half and hour before the droplets slow down
  • Remember to use a shutter release cable a wireless remote trigger or the timer on your camera to take the shots, this avoids camera shake and gives you a clearer shot
  • Also experiment with different backgrounds and droplet heights for more effects
  • Try changing the power and the angle of the flash and also try the flash hand held – for different lighting effects –

Step 8: last words

water drop photography nikon highspeed camera

The possibilities are endless – just let your imagination run away with you and enjoy capturing the uniqueness of water drops

Cymatics photography tutorial

Finding my inspiration from the amazing Nigel Stamford Cymatics video that I wrote about back in 2014 – click here for the post

I decided to look further into the origins of cymatics and found the word was invented by Dr Hans Jenny.

image courtesy of www.idisturato.com

dr hans jenny cymatics experiments scientist

Hans Jenny the forefather of cymatics

Dr Hans Jenny created several televised experiments back in the 1960s which are mind blowing to watch, several clips can be found on youtube.

The videos give a great introduction to cymatics and shows scientific phenomena in action.

Although all the experiments in the series have been conducted in laboratories, I still wanted to try and do my own sound visualisation projects.

I remembered back to an episode of the television series ‘The big bang theory’ which showed a scene where they had conducted an experiment using a non newtonian liquid cornflour and made it move from the sounds.

A clip from this scene is linked to the picture below:

Big Bang theory Corn starch on speaker




Trying my own Cymatics photography Experiment

This got me thinking about recreating the scene myself and after finding an old speaker and watching several youtube tutorials which explained in detail what equipment was needed to produce the formations. I then mixed cornflour with water and using an online tone generator I was able to make sounds that could be visually experienced through the liquid  within the speaker.

A picture of my set up is shown below:

speakerphotography hifi tones soundcymatics experiment

Lighting wise I was able to use 2 off camera bare flashes set at their lowest setting 1/128 and used a microphone trigger with a delay function to light the image. The camera was set to an exposure of 1 second and the room was darkened to ensure no ambient light was leaking into the exposure. For the background I used a black cotton sheet.

I have included a diagram of my home studio set up which will hopefully help to create a similar scene when photographing high speed liquid on a speaker.

 

cymatics tutorial photography diagram

The diagram above shows the settings I used on my Nikon Dslr camera. I have also stated on the diagram that I used a Tamron 90mm lens but I also tried the Tamron 70-300mm lens which had a macro function (albeit not as sharp as the dedicated macro 1:1 – 90mm) because of thelonger focal length which had its own advantages.

I used the laptop that was connected to the hifi and found a simple yet extremely effective tone generator

http://onlinetonegenerator.com/

Which allowed me to play the tones through to the hifi speaker that I had hooked up to the laptop with compatible AUX cables

I tried sound frequencies through the speaker between 10 and 160hz, to find out what could be seen. From this I noted that the lower frequencies (10-30hz) made shapes with deep contours. 60hz made formations that were biomorphic /nature like in form

I have listed 2 of the most helpful youtube guides underneath

 

Below are a few of the formations I was able to capture using a 60hz sound tone

corn starch photography cymatic formation corn starch photography cymatic formation photography corn starch cymatic formation photography corn starch cymatic formation

Although i found the formations to be strange and interesting i did not like the clingfilm shown in the photograph so decided to go back to the drawing board and find another way to convey cymatics.




Cymatics Photograpy experiment 2: Alternative non Newtonian liquid

My next set of experiments used the same speaker components set up but this time I swapped the clingfilm for a black rubber balloon which allowed for a level surface over the speaker.

My first job was to set the camera & tripod in a front facing horizontal position that brought the speaker tight into the camera frame.

Once I had my camera in a good place, I then needed to get the lighting how I wanted it for the shot (background blacked out and only the speaker in the frame.

I mentioned earlier I was using a 1 second shutter speed on the camera because it was the 2 xspeedlights (flashguns) that would light the image.

Most consumer level cameras are unable to sync with speedlights at the high speeds needed to capture cymatics images or any other events that the eye cannot see. We overcome this by using sound to activate speedlights but in this case we do not want activation from the exact moment of sound we need to wait for a reaction.

To allow for these additional fractions of a second I needed to use a sound trigger  with a delay function which allows the speedlites a changeable delay in 1000ths of a second from when they activate after hearing a sound. The reason we need this control is because if there was not a delay then the instance of the flash would not allow for any formations to occur. You can purchase sound triggers with delays from lots of different photographic outlets online, Ive used ones from Ebay, Amazon and a small electronics company. I would recommend starting with a basic model as long as it features a delay function.

Below shows me trying to get a shot of a screw being lifted into the air by the vibration of the speakers rubber membrane when a sound tone is played and the speedlights are activated.

photography screw on a speaker cymatics test

If you click on the image above to enlarge it, you can see that the screw has started to levitate above the speakers balloon surface.

I used a metal screw as it was a far less messy alternative to liquids whilst I was getting my timings right.  The constraints I decided to work to were if the screw was still upright it was before the sound tone vibration reached the speaker then the exposure was too soon. Likewise if the screw flew off it was too late. Expect to spend a lot of your set up time on this part of the process as once the lighting and the timings have been set, you will be all set to go with the creativity.

After I had captured the photograph of the screw I then was able to change to liquids and started with the cornflower.

cymatic cornflour cornstarch photography

cornflour was not working cymatics

cymatic cornflour cornstarch photography

although this was not working it gave me an idea

 

Unfortunately after several attempts I realised nothing actually happened with Corn flour/starch so I decided to try other non newtonian liquids and came across a good consistency in shampoo and body lotion.

cymatics photography sound speaker

Finally after many attempts i managed to capture the moment of the liquid rising. Below are some of my 1st shots that showed the liquid rising, however as you can see, I needed to again alter the fraction of time to allow more of the formation to show.

cymatics experiment photography nikon test

cymatics experiment photography nikon test

 

Even shaving gel gave off some strange but interesting formations, The following images show these gel turning into foam at the point of sound implosion.

cymatics photography foam (1)

cymatics experiment photography nikon test

cymatics experiment photography nikon test

After some changes to:

  • focal length
  • delay to sound
  • tripod height
  • speedlight duration
  • aperture

I was finally at a place where I was able to get some images that I was able to use as my own take on Cymatics and sound visualisation.  In total I was able to capture over 70 of these types of images in this one session, using the same 60hz tone wave from the online generator.

I tried several different lotions and liquids from around the house, combining on occasion, each time the formations gave of a strange surreal shape.

Post production is minimal with this sort of photography, I use lightroom to increase black and add some contrast and for this batch I turned my image into monochrome (b&w) but apart from that and a crop to help with composition, and a few tweaks to the tones nothing more was needed.

I have featured some of the formations that I captured below. I hope this blog helps others in the basic when trying their own photography experiments.

cymatics photography formations biomorphic sculpture macro surreal cymatics photography formations biomorphic sculpture macro surreal cymatics photography formations biomorphic sculpture macro surreal

cymatics photography formations biomorphic sculpture macro surreal cymatics photography formations biomorphic sculpture macro surreal cymatics photography formations biomorphic sculpture macro surreal cymatics photography formations biomorphic sculpture macro surreal cymatics photography formations biomorphic sculpture macro surreal  cymatics photography formations biomorphic sculpture macro surreal