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Photos of water droplets aren't hard to come by. Flickr is littered with them and although some might look impressive, they all seem to have very similar composition and formation. However, the techniques used to capture a water droplet may not be second nature to all of us and the skills learnt here will undoubtedly be applicable to other photographic situations.
This tutorial will walk you through 13 steps for learning to shoot unique water images with impact!
Step 1 - Static or Splash?
There are two common styles of water droplet shots; those of water splashing up from a pool and those of water caught upon surfaces such as leaves and spider's webs. Generally, the form of the splash shots consists of a drop falling towards a water surface and circular ripples extending from the point of entry.
The reason for the generic composition is due to the form of water (which we will talk about later) not necessarily because of the lack of imagination of the photographer. The skill involved is to capture the movement of the water and the form of the shot is not necessarily the point of interest. There is far more flexibility when taking shots of droplets resting upon surfaces, particularly as more often than not, they are within a natural setting.
Step 2 - To Find a Droplet, or Bring Them to You?
So water droplet shots may be over-done, but for those new to this type of shot, it can be a very rewarding (but time-consuming) experience. Whether or not you choose to find or fabricate your water droplets it can take a bit of effort to get right. To capture droplets in a natural setting requires an understanding of the correct exposure settings and how to use your surroundings and light to create something compositionally interesting.
The alternative is to locate or manufacture a pool of water that has water dripping into it. Obviously within this fabricated setting, composition and lighting are dependant on you as the creator, so interest depends on how well thought out and prepared you are!
Step 3 - Creating Your Own Scene
Creating your own water droplet scene is easy enough, although you'll need to gather a few items before you get started:
- Macro Lens (not essential, but will produce the best results)
- Tub/Bucket/Sink (for Water)
- Tripod / Cable Release
- Pipette (to drop water into pool)
- Light Source (lamp/window/flash)
- Food Colouring (just in case you want to spice things up a bit!)
Hopefully the role of each of these items is fairly self-explanatory! Be sure to choose a suitable location that won't mind a few splashes, and somewhere that will help in getting the lighting right. Hopefully by the end of the article, you'll be able to put all these items into practice to capture some beautiful watery splashes!
Step 4 - A Natural Setting
Next, let us consider shots taken within a natural setting which, for me, provide more enjoyment due to the uncertainty and variety. The shot below was taken whilst on a trip to an English Heritage site, with the intention of looking around the old building, but a drip falling onto the cold stone floor captured my attention. After a lot of patience and persistence with my camera I was able to capture the drip splashing up off the floor with dramatic affect. The joy of this shot was having to adjust to the environment and use the surroundings to my advantage. The pillar formed the perfect backdrop for the splashing water and the shadow that it cast enabled the light to highlight the water.
Step 5 - Be Prepared
For the shot above, I regret to say that I hadn't travelled prepared, I was without my tripod and didn't have any sort of cable release, hence the need for persistence and patience whilst holding my camera as still as possible! When trying to capture water droplets, both of these pieces of equipment are incredibly useful in capturing both the movement and stillness of the water without any movement from your hands.
Step 6 - To Burst, or Not to Burst
I'm sure that the majority of water splash shots are taken using burst mode. For my shot, the burst mode on my camera just wasn't quick enough to capture the water bouncing back up, so I resorted to counting out the drips to time my shot. This is obviously a very long-winded way of going about it, but my counting method seemed to work and I was able to depress the shutter button at just the right moment. However, selecting burst mode is by far the best option in these situations, it might feel a bit like cheating, but you're far more likely to get the results you want!
Step 7 - A Simple Background
Keep the background simple. Remember that the point of interest is the water and you should do all you can to draw attention to the water rather than it's surroundings. If creating your own droplets, use a plain wall or a sheet of paper as a backdrop, if in a natural setting, use whatever is around you, but keep it simple!
When shooting, use a high F-number, this will help to blur the background and focus on the water. Depth of field is a key aspect of many droplet shots, with a clear central area and a hazy smooth outer edge to the shot.
Step 8 - Focus is Key
Getting the focus right is essential when trying to photograph water. In many cases, such as landscape shots of lakes, water is taken with a long exposure to create a smooth soft texture, where as in this case, we aim to capture a sharp clear shot. Make sure you know what you're aiming to focus on, either the droplet or the resulting splash and aim your camera and focus accordingly. The combination of the high F number and correct focus settings should create a great depth of field with a sharp centre and a smoother rippling surface.
Step 9 - Where's Your Light Source?
Whether in a controlled or natural environment, the light source is an essential consideration. Natural sunlight, even if through a window, will always be the best source to give crisp and sparkling water shots. The purity and clarity of water will offer a variety of reflections and may even create a crystal like affect, so don't be afraid to experiment with lighting angles and different flash strengths to see how the water and light react together.
Step 10 - Nail the Composition
As I mentioned previously, because of the nature of a falling drop of water there is a limited amount that can be done compositionally. Therefore, the essential compositional element of water droplet photography is to get it right! It's best to set up your camera so it is aiming down towards the water to enable you to capture the surface of the water. Leave space for the water to ripple outwards and enough space above the surface to catch the drops falling towards the surface. If need be, you can then crop the shot slightly so there isn't any dead space around the edges.
Step 11 - Consider the Variables
To get the most out of the shot it's important to understand how the water will behave and react. Take time to think about the science behind the process, how high is the water dripping from? How will this affect the reaction of the water upon the surface it's hitting? Where is the light coming from? Is there anything reflecting off the water? Is anything visible through the water droplets?
There are plenty of variables within the situation to think about, with each setting being different to the next. Work out what you might be able to use to your advantage, what might make your shot stand out from others and give it that special edge.
Step 12 - Don't Get Wet!
Along with understanding what water is capable of should be the awareness that getting your camera too close to the water is not a good idea! Be sure to set up your camera a safe distance away from any splashes and use your zoom to get right in on the action. This is particularly important in natural surroundings in which, unlike within a controlled man made situation, conditions can be unpredictable.
Step 13 - Have Fun!
You may be put off this type of shot having seen so many of them, but there's no reason you can't experiment with water droplet shots. Explore the opportunities of a variety of natural settings, or try out the variants of a controlled environment, experimenting with exposure settings, different focal points, light sources, backgrounds and coloured dyes. You may surprise yourself with what you can create and capture!