Ever since I was a kid, my brothers and I enjoyed taking things apart for the pure enjoyment of seeing how they worked. Apparently, I still do this today, except now it typically involves examining and exploring photos that interest me. It usually starts when I see a photo that not only looks cool, but makes me wonder how on earth it was made. I inspect the shadows, the angles, and the textures, mentally breaking down the lighting that was used to create it. Every now and then, it will intrigue me enough that I just have to try it for myself, which brings us to this post. The latest of these compulsive urges was to try and photograph a water drop splashing. It’s kind of an interesting challenge, and it certainly provided some cheap entertainment for Airika and I!
The first challenge was the lighting. Water is difficult to light because it is both transparent and reflective. The first thing I had to do was get a dark container to hold the water. That way, most of the light that goes through the water will be absorbed by the container, instead of reflected by it. I put a dime in the pan on this shot to illustrate how much of a difference it makes to have a black container.
Now that we’ve taken care of the transparency problem, we are basically working with a reflective surface. In order to make this work, you need to light the water indirectly. What I mean, is that instead of using the flash to light light the water directly, I needed to light the object that I wanted to be reflected in the water. In this case, I thought it’d be fun to add a little color, so I put an old blue folder behind the water, and pointed my flash at the folder. Here’s the setup…see the reflection of the folder in the pan? That’s the target area for the drop.
The next challenge is freezing the water drop mid-air. Airika and I used a Canon speedlite, which allows us to shoot with a shutter speed of up to 1/8000th of a second. In order to avoid motion blur in shots like these, that kind of speed is pretty much necessary. Most of these were shots were take at ISO 1000, f/8, and a shutter speed of 1/8000th of a second. The exception is the shot at the end of the post, which was f/4.5 1/5000th of a second. If you look closely, you can see some motion blur in a few of the small droplets even at that shutter speed!
Now for the fun part! Trying to get a tiny drop of water in focus at the exact instant it hits the water isn’t easy, and if you are doing it by hand it will just take a lot of trial and error. My advice is to get someone help out and have fun! The cool thing about it is that you really never know what you are getting until you look at the photos. It’s a surprise every time!