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Capture a Splashing Water Droplet

9 min to read

Have you ever tried to shoot moving water? Here is an easy tutorial How-To shoot a water droplet in action. Picturing water always takes you to new and diverse challenges that often can lead to creative new ideas. Have fun and explore the unpredictable movements of water, even at home. As an amateur I always wanted my final photo to look like a professional one, but haven’t all the needed equipment to ‘’dream big’’. The tutorial below reveals that it’s not necessary to own expensive lens and lighting to create a masterpiece.


Basic Equipment

Shooting on a budged is always a pleasure. All you need is:

  • A camera with “M” manual mode, in order to gain control over shutter speed and aperture
  • Tripod – it keeps the focal point correct
  • External flash – to control the light, photos are macro and the and the required light is more delicate
  • Bowl or pan, where you can pour water and have its surface on focus. Tip: Better to be white or black, for better colours. The pan in the tutorial is white.
  • Plastic bags – which will be the source of the falling water droplets
  • Two or three white sheets – will be used as a background and reflectors. Here are used Styrofoam plates, but white sheets of paper works but white cardboard sheets work fine
  • Scotch tape to put all the stuff in place.

Still nothing expensive and at the same time, enough for the shooting.


Set Up Your Equipment

Find a comfortable place with an appropriate height to install your camera. It’s important to have your container filled with water of the same height and the surface can be clearly seen. Also don’t forget about the plastic bag, which should hang over the water and will provide the ‘’dance of the water drops’’. For your convenience the image below shows the set up of the scene.

equipment for shooting a splash of water droplet

The only thing left undone is …


Camera Settings

We come to the most delicate moment in the how-to shoot a falling water drop. all efforts and preparations would be in vain if the camera is not set properly. Follow the steps below and take the photo challenge:

  • Switch to ”M” manual mode
  • Shutter speed – turn it to around 1/200s. The faster it is, the sharper will be the drop on the picture. This fact leads to another important note – keep in mind to avoid blurry water drops.
  • Aperture – ranged from f7 to f11 in order to get satisfying DOF (depth of field). It should be enough for the drop to stay in focus wherever it is caught (closer or farther from the water surface). Important note: It is best to use macro lens, but any other can work for you. In the tutorial a kit lens Canon 18-55mm was used at f9-f10 for best results.
  • Using a flash leads to setting the White balance to “Flash”, to avoid harsh whiten colours.
  • External flash – it can be switched to a manual mode or as I do – it can be used in TTL mode as in this photo shooting. It’s recommend using +1 2/3 compensation of the flash.
  • After setting up the values of the F-stop and Shutter Speed, turn the ISO to 100 or less. You need as low ISO as the camera is able to, because of the noise. You don’t need grainy photos at the end. Here is used ISO100.
Camera settings for shooting a splashing water droplet

Fill up the plastic bag with water and hang it over the pan. It’s time to hunt a single drop!

Start shooting now!

Photographing the scene can take up to a few long lasting hours to get exactly what you want as a final result. That’s why here are four tips that can save you efforts and time:

  • First of all drill the plastic bag at the bottom with a needle, which will give you water drops in a given interval.
  • Put the tripod as close as it is possible, but keep the lens dry before every new photo.
  • Wait for the plastic bag stop moving after hanging it and making the hole in it, because water should drip to one and the same point over the surface, so can easily focus there.
  • Speaking of focus here it is one of the most important tricks – for easy focusing, put a finger exactly where water is dripping, make sure it falls right over, now you’ve got the focal point. You can try with auto focus, however I recommend doing it in manual mode, it is more precise. Keep in mind that some lenses have a back or front focus in auto mode and they focus a little bit in front or behind the desired point. Tae the challenge and use the manual focus.
 Be sure the focal point is set accurately.

Hunting the Water Drop

Chasing the perfect moment to press the shutter is difficult. There will be a lot of “empty” photos, but don’t give up(For example, it took me two hours and a half to take six or seven good pictures for the tutorial). It takes also a lot of practice to gain a satisfactory result. Quick tip for easy shooting: Wait for water drops once and afterwards calculate the interval to the next drop, so at least you will be able to predict when it will be next. However, do not forget that success comes with practice.

Experiment with the position of the external flash.

equipment for shooting a splash of water droplet

Flash can be also on top of the camera

You can achieve different result while changing its location to the water surface. Do not forget to put a white background against the flash, and use it as a reflector. I chose to put the external flash on the camera. Quick tip: When start shooting in TTL, notice that most of the pictures go gray. If so, try using flash compensation +1, if still not enough – increase to +1 2/3. It will give beautiful contrast and clear outlines.

Splash !

While experimenting with lighting and reflections do not forget to check the focal point because it may have changed. The sharpness of the picture will be lost. Quick tip: Every lens has its sharpest aperture range to shoot with. For Canon 18-55mm is about f8-f11, as used in the tutorial. If shooting with other lens, it will be good to check further.

Splash
Dancing water droplet

Another important thing is Framing – keep compositions simple and focus only on the drops. That will not draw the attention away from the main idea, but if the falling drops of water awaken your creative thinking, do not hesitate to put new ideas.

Two-hour-shooting later, it’s time to see the results on a computer. Not all of them, that look amazing on the camera’s LCD screen will be satisfying. But I bet that 3-4 of them have become so well that can’t believe that are yours.


Post-processing

Select the best images, it’s time to open them in Photoshop (or any other post-processing program e.g. GIMP, you use). A lot of changes and improvements can be made with such photos, depending on the purpose. However I do not prefer overdo shots, and use mainly 4 steps to mold the finished frame to look more impressive:

    • Open the image and crop it. If it’s not properly framed or just don’t like the composition – change it before any further processing.
 Crop it first.
    • Once cropped, choose if it will look great in black and white or it will lose its charm. If so (for black and white), I recommend using Image>Adjustments>Black and White, and experiment with different color channels. It is up to you how will look the photo at the end. At the bottom of the channel box there is a check box named “Tint”, which gives you the opportunity to add beautiful tones to the shot.
Use tint to add to water more natural look.
  • Next step is for those who would like to experiment more with colours. Duplicate the background layer and choose Copy (This will allow you to return to the original image if something goes wrong). Click on the gradient tool in the left bar and choose a pattern that you prefer. Then apply it to the copied layer. Go to the layer bar next and click on Overlay, then choose Opacity around 80% (or whatever percent that suits best the photo). And here you’ve got a very interesting colourful water drop.
  • The last step is to play with Curves. This tool gives the image final look, prefer using it for applying more contrast.

 

Water droplet just before it vanishes
Above the water

Conclusion

Photographing water drops is a great challenge for amateurs. However it’s is easier than you think and should definitely give them a try.

Have questions or want to share thought, don’t hesitate to use the form below.

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