How to make drips

Just now, I posted some pictures of drops of water on my photo blog. I decided to keep it short and pictorial, and to write about the details here, on my geek blog.

I’ve never tried taking photos of drops of water before, but I took advice from the comprehensive water drop photography guide. In particular, I wanted to know how to light the scene. I have two mains-powered flashguns but I didn’t really want to run cables into the bathroom so I used two old battery-powered flashes. Unfortunately they have a rather slow recycle time.

With the drip tray on the toilet lid, I placed one flash behind the tray on the toilet cistern, and the other at 90° on a tripod camera left. No apologies for the quality of these photos – they were taken on my phone since my camera was on its tripod 🙂

Rear flash
Side flash
The setup

It’s important to make the drips fall in the same place each time, so I attached a pipette to a microphone stand which was overhanging the drip tray. Even then it was very hit-and-miss, and in lots of the photos the drip fell outside of the frame.

The pipette

Of course it’s not really possible to use autofocus for this. I released a few drops and noted where they fell, and put a screw in that place. It’s then easy to focus manually, or to use autofocus on the screw and then flick it into manual focus.

I was using a Canon EOS 450D with a Tamron 90mm macro lens. I didn’t move in as close as I could have, because I wanted a slightly larger margin of error. After a few test shots, I put the camera in full manual mode with a shutter speed of 1/200s, an aperture of f/10 and a sensitivity of ISO200.

Even with the pipette sort of held in place, it’s pretty difficult to ensure the drops fall in the same place each time. But it’s even harder to get the timing right. I enabled mirror lock-up, so I would get a quicker response when firing the shutter. I found that the timing was best when I released a drip and pressed the shutter release as the drop appeared to touch the surface of the water. Of course with electronic delays and delays in my reflexes this is no doubt after the drop has hit the surface of the water. The photos seemed to come out OK though.

A water drop

You can see the rest of my water drop photos here.

I tried different timings but I couldn’t get any shapes other than a pillar or a crater. Some sources online say you need a more viscous liquid to get prettier drop shapes. This is probably something I’ll try again in the future.

I was also a bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to get a faster shutter speed than 1/200. Any faster than this and darkness started to creep into the bottom of the frame. I could probably have made shutter speed a stop faster if I wasn’t using cheap wireless triggers, and probably another stop again if I wasn’t using three-decades-old consumer-grade flashes. Next time I will probably use two mains-powered flashes with sync cables.

2 Comments

  1. October 24, 2010
    Reply

    I left some tips over on your photo page, but having read this one – I’ve got a tip about shutter speed.

    You won’t be able to sync above 1/200th as that’s the sync speed of the mechanical shutter in your camera.

    The good news is you don’t have to! (assuming your flashes have a manual power setting) – flashes change the power output by effectively changing the length of the flash. So if you turn the power way down, you also change the length of the flash (and in most cases shorten the recycle time as well!).

    As the flash is the only light source contributing to the scene, the shorter the flash pusle the shorter the effective shutter speed.

    According to the exif data, the image I linked to on your photoblog was with a shutter speed of 1/125th which would have been far too slow had I not had my flashes turned way down!

    • Jonathan
      October 24, 2010
      Reply

      Thanks for the tips. Unfortunately the two battery flashes I was using don’t have variable power. I will need to revisit this with my variable-power mains flashes I think.

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