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Photography

How to Make a Colourful Bubble Macro Photo with Oil and Water

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:ShortLanguages:
This post is part of a series called Macro Photography.
Make, Find, and Improvise: Creative Backgrounds For Still Life and Macro Photographs
How to Create High-Key Macro Photos With Axial Lighting
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In earlier tutorials we looked for macro inspiration around the house and around the garden. Carrying on with the series, we'll now start to look at making macro photos that you construct. This tutorial, using oil and water, is a fun way to try some new macro photography with a fairly quick set up and immediate results.

What You’ll Need

To complete this tutorial you will need:

  • a clear glass tumbler, 
  • some cooking oil, 
  • washing-up liquid, 
  • a dropper or syringe,
  • and some rainbow paper
Oil and Water set up
What you'll need to complete this tutorial

I didn’t have any rainbow paper so I improvised with coloured post-it notes stuck to a sheet of A4. You could always print one off from your computer too.

rainbow paper
Rainbow paper, or 'post-it' notes in this case

You only need a surface area the size of the bottom of your glass tumbler. Don’t worry about marks or joins as you won’t see them in the final image.

Oil and Water Method

First, choose somewhere nice and bright for your set up, or use artificial lighting. A window can provide nice light for this technique.

Fill your tumbler half full with water and add a drop of washing-up liquid. Place it on top of your rainbow paper and leave it to settle or give it a gentle stir with a teaspoon until the water is clear and still and free from bubbles.

Next, take your dropper and suck up some of your cooking oil.

This next part depends how quick you are. Drop the oil one drop at a time into the water. You need to be quite fast to get your shot as the drops will eventually start to spread out and not look so good:

failed bubbles
If you aren't quick, the bubbles of oil will start to group together and look unpleasant

I found it was easier for me to hold the camera in my right hand and use the dropper with my left, capturing the resulting drops immediately. Photographing hand-held, rather than on a tripod, will let you recompose quickly as you go. Try shooting in A (Aperture) Mode on your camera to get a greater depth of field, but choose an intermediate f/stop to retain the blur of the background. Depending on your setup you may need to choose a higher ISO speed to give you a fast-enough shutter duration.

The Results

finished oil and water shot
Our finished oil and water shot

Once taken, boost the colours a little in post-processing with a contrast curve and saturation, clean up any little distractions with the spot-healing tool and voilà, a colourful bubble macro picture.

This technique works well with brightly coloured paper, but do try experimenting with different backgrounds under the glass. I’d love to see what you make!

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