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How to get started in water drop photography

Published by Debs Slater · July 4th 2012

Last week we featured awesome advice on how to paint a ball of light into your photographs. This week, water drop photographer Corrie White chats to us about how to create amazing artworks from drops of liquid...

Carousel by Corrie White (CorrieWhite) on 500px.com
Carousel by Corrie White

Getting started

To begin with in water drop photography you don't need a lot of equipment. Before you spend hundreds of dollars on something you think you would like to do, and a certain machine is the magic solution to get perfect water drops, try it out to see if this is for you. I have seen many people spend a lot of money on electronics and only see a few pictures from their efforts before they decide this isn't working for them. The fancy drops you see on the internet are achieved with lots of experience, testing and skill and there is a long process to get the ultimate water drops.

I started out using a medicine dropper for the first year and for the first few months used only my in-camera flash. I already had a true macro lens which was a bonus! Ultimately, you would need at least a 100mm macro lens, a DSLR camera, external flash guns, (I use three) and electronics. I use Mumford's Time Machine and Drip Kit which was still in a testing phase when I started with this, but there are several different timing rigs available. Do some research and decide what you want to achieve with the outcome of the drops.

Setup 1. A medicine dropper and one external flash.

Some of my own favorites are still those done manually with only a medicine dropper and one external flash...

Containers

You can use various containers for splashes. I mainly use a black water tray which measures 41cm x 28cm x 5.5cm deep. The height of the valve from the water is 48cm but this varies greatly each time I do a session. I use black plastic in the bottom of my tray to help get clear reflections.

Setup 2. The basic water set up that I use at the moment. The camera is at an angle low enough to catch a reflection without showing the front and back of the water tray.

The Process

On the Time Machine I set the number of drops (I always use 2 for all of my images), the interval between the drops, the size of the drop and the flash lag to catch the drop in a desired stage. I then activate the shutter button which opens the shutter on my camera, drops two drops in succession, fires the flashes and then the shutter closes. I usually have my exposure set to 0.05 seconds; this is necessary to allow time for the process. It is the speed of the flashes that freezes the action, not the shutter speed. The flashes fire at approximately 1/20,000 - 1/30,000th of a second. The drops are done in a very dimly lit room to avoid ambient light so only what the flashes capture will show on camera.

Tea With Milk by Corrie White (CorrieWhite) on 500px.com
Tea With Milk by Corrie White

Liquids

I use mainly water and milk. With the water you can use additives such as glycerine, dissolved sugar or guar gum. Glycerine and sugar will leave the water a bit cloudy but guar gum is excellent for thickening the water. You can buy it at a bulk food store. Use about 1/8th teaspoon in 2 cups of warm water, mix well and strain with a coffee filter a few times. It is lumpy and hard to strain. I mostly use xanthan gum which is similar to guar gum, but you need less and it is easier to strain. I love working with milk. I usually use skim milk and sometimes add a few drops of cream to thicken. The fat content of milk makes it easy to get nicely formed shapes. Using milk as a base in the drip tray is great for effects, but soon the milk gets cloudy so I use water as the base liquid in the tray.

Lighting

Lighting is very important in photography. Too little and you get noise. Too much and it's blown out. My most common settings are an ISO of 100 - 200, an exposure of 0.05 seconds to allow for the whole process and an aperture (usually) of f14 which gets me enough light and depth of field. For water drops, I often have the three flash guns behind a pane of acid-etched glass for soft diffusion of light. For the milk drops, I have the flash guns situated on either side of the drop and sometimes above.

Setup 3. This one is basically how I shot Jaws. I use this for a lot of my colored milk drops such as Black Hole and My Daffodil.  My crowns are also shot this way, except I use black glass for the base.

 

Stages of a Crown by Corrie White (CorrieWhite) on 500px.com
Stages of a Crown by Corrie White

Colors

The colors in the drops are usually from food dye. Background colors come from various plastic gels on the flashes or else from colored overhead transparencies which I design and get printed. Lately I will sometimes color milk with a bit of yellow food dye and have colored gels on the flashes to get the multi colored drops.

There are so many shapes you can get with water drops. No two are alike. Liquids have a mind of their own and you have to take this into consideration. As one of my colleagues said - "It's an art, not math". Some of us push the limits with electronics, and you see some technically fantastic creations, but I always come back to the basic mushroom shape which is still one of my favorite shapes.

Setup 4. The setup I use for my liquid flow images and also the ones where the mushroom type drop is on top of the surface, with the delayed flash on the flow underneath. You can see I need both hands so I use the shutter button as a foot pedal.

 

Patience, perseverance and persistence are essentials for a water drop photographer. Creativity is also necessary. Make your pictures aesthetically appealing. Be unique. Stand out. Once you get inspiration from other photographers, innovate rather than imitate. We all imitate to get started, but then make it your own.

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Thanks to Corrie for showing us how to capture water droplets! If you'd like to see more of Corrie's work head over to her 500px page or her website Liquid Drop Art.

     

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clopixe
Plus Account
Clotilde Hulin  about 1 year ago
You work is superb and amazing ! thanks a bunch Corrie for sharing such tutorial!
I will try this someday ... but not sure to have a good result without the time machine !
Thanks a lot!
gratitud
Johnny Lee  over 1 year ago
thank you sharing your experience..
SebaMantel
Seba Mantel  over 1 year ago
amazing!
Michael
Plus Account
Michael Babakov  over 1 year ago
Thanks!
anasahmad
Anas Ahmad  almost 2 years ago
seriously! even I haven't finished reading this article and I was feeling desperate to grab my gear and start shooting. Absolutely amazing work! thanks a bunch Corrie for sharing such brief tutorial! You work is superb!

Good Luck.

SebaMantel
Seba Mantel  over 1 year ago
me too jaja!
ddigits
Dirk Willing  about 2 years ago
Thank You for sharing Your way of doing very nice "splashy shots"! It's a good playground for bad weather conditions ;)
kombizz
kombizz kashani  about 2 years ago
It is an interesting idea to look at
I guess when a person has loads of money, good equipments, lots of time and of course dedication, then why not.
But, there are plenty 'observations' out there which are needed to be photographed [ THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE] rather than staying inside the small corner of kitchen in a dim lights.
I guess when I get old and unable to go out there, and got loads of money, then why not.
danborg
Daniel Borg  almost 2 years ago
You obviously have no idea, you don't need loads of money to do this type photography... Corrie is one of the pioneers in this genre of photography; your comment is extremely rude when an artist takes the time to share thier secrets... jealousy is an ugly trait!!!
CorrieWhite
Corrie White  about 2 years ago
Comment hidden
MMitchell
Matt Mitchell  about 2 years ago
It's really great to see an artist showing us the way these images were created.

Thanks,
From a humble amateur

studiopp
Peter van der Plaat  about 2 years ago
Great article
seanmcbay
Sean Magnoni  about 2 years ago
I will try this someday when I have some flashes handy.
lalbertoramos
L. Alberto Ramos  about 2 years ago
Nice!
JohnStokes
John Stokes (inactive)  about 2 years ago
Great article, very interesting but i think I will admire from afar for now, don't have the cash for the extra gear :)
barthuizinga
Bart Huizinga  about 2 years ago
So good explained! This makes me want to try this on my own, but I'm afraid I'll make a complete mess of it :)
mrao
Mamatha Rao  about 2 years ago
Beautiful pics! The process is very well explained...
MarkLuftig
Plus Account
Mark Luftig  about 2 years ago
Very interesting and well written, I had no idea how you did those amazing shots.
kvonk
Karen von Knobloch  about 2 years ago
Fabulous helpful information Corrie...so kind of you to share so much with everyone else!
JackLong
Jack Long  about 2 years ago
Well Presented Corrie
XaviArques
Awesome Account
Xavi Arqués  about 2 years ago
Great work !!
dflynn
Awesome Account
Dave Flynn  about 2 years ago
Superb!! thanks for the explanation. Particularly as I don't have the time machine just yet... Now where's my food dye?
marco_salinas
marco salinas  about 2 years ago
Great!!
Mkun2
M kun2  about 2 years ago
Interesting work.
SamanthaShea
Samantha Shea (inactive)  about 2 years ago
Amazing!! Great tutorial!!
zefreus
Tiago Leal  about 2 years ago
Impressive....

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