Water Drop Photography – What’s it all about?

Water Drop Photography – What’s it all about?

Quite some time ago I saw a photograph that I thought was a creative digital drawing. It was brightly coloured and the subject was what looked like a liquid flattened mushroom shape. I then realised it was a water drop collision, 2 or more droplets of water colliding with the camera catching that collision. I was really impressed with it.

So I set about discovering how these images were created. In its most basic format you can use something to create single water drops, some form of container that the drops fall into and then a camera and associated equipment. It’s easier for me to show you an image I captured and then I will break down the equipment I used for that shot and the methodology.

So as an example here is one of my own water drop collision shots:


Equipment Used

Camera Gear

  • DSLR Body (Nikon D7100)
  • Macro Lens (Sigma 105mm f/2.8 Macro)
  • Off Camera Flash (Neewer NW562 Speedlite)
  • Wireless Flash Controllers (Transmitter and receiver)
  • Tripod

Water Dropper Equipment

  • MIOPS Electronic Water Dropper
  • MIOPS arm and bracket
  • Camera lead, to connect the camera to the dropper
  • Desktop Tripod

Misc Equipment

  • Coloured water/ milk mixture for the dropper
  • A plastic container for the reservoir for the drops to fall into
  • Coloured water/ milk mixture for the reservoir
  • Printed paper with a gradient colour for the background
  • A roasting tin to sit the reservoir in, to catch any splashes
  • A sturdy table to sit the equipment on

The methodology

The Water

For this shot I used a mixure of water and milk. I added the milk so the liquid was opaque instead of being clear. I then added food colouring to the mix. I used two mixes, one for the dropper and one for the reservoir. One was yellow, the other red. You can get really creative here, by using different liquids and colours. Thicker liquids offer different results to thinner ones.

Bear in mind though, if you are using an electronic dropper, thick liquids could cause problems with clogging etc. I’ve used very small amounts of Xanthan Gum to thicken my liquids and had great results from that.

The Background

Using a coloured background is important in the shot. I find using complimentary colours to the liquid colours works well. A lack or white background can work well too. To create the coloured background for the shot I’ve shown, I created an A4 sized image in Photoshop, with a gradient fill covering the whole page. I then printed this off. I place the image as close behind the reservoir as I can. I stick the A4 sheet to cereal boxes so it can easily stand up behind the reservoir.

The Water Dropper

As you will see from the list above, to actually create the water droplets I use a MIOPS water dropper. This nifty bit of kit allows you to control the rate at which the drops fall, so you can create collisions like the one shown in my image. It also allows you to control the size of the drops and you can set the number of drops too. The MIOPS water dropper allows you to access the settings for it through a smart phone application.

Importantly, the MIOPS Water Dropper controls the shutter for your camera, so it opens the shutter at the right time to capture the water drop collision. There are quite a few options out there for electronic water droppers, you could even go ghetto and use stuff like plastic bags with a hole pricked in it.

The dropper is held above the water reservoir by means of an arm that fixes to a standard tripod on one end and the dropper fixed to the other. It’s at a height of about 30cm above the reservoir. I use a cheap tripod for this and I’ve found I have to weigh it down or it unbalances.

The Camera Setup

The camera is set up at the very slightly above the top of the reservoir with it looking slightly down on it. It’s sat about a foot away. The camera is connected to the dropper by use of the cable, which is supplied. This setup would vary depending on the lens you use, with the distances needing to be adjusted accordingly. You’re aiming for the water drop to be in focus and large enough in the frame.

I set the camera to full manual, with ISO 100 and I set the shutter speed at 1/250 (my flash sync speed). To focus the camera properly is fiddly as you have nothing to focus on, The water drops are there for split seconds so you have to find another way to focus.

What I do is to release a drop from the dropper, watch where it lands in the reservoir and then use a wooden meat skewer to mark that spot. I then focus on the meat skewer. I know then that the water drops will be in focus. When you’re working alone it’s a pain trying to hold the skewer in place and to manually focus but it definitely works.

The Flash

Using an off camera flash is essential if you want to capture the drop collision without it being blurred due to the movement. By using a flash you can freeze the movement to provide a sharp image. To do so you need to use manual mode on the flash with a low flash power setting, I find 32 or 64 is ideal to freeze the action.

I have the camera shutter speed set to the sync speed of the flash (in my case 1/250). I position the flash so it’s aimed at the background and not the reservoir or in the direction of the drop collisions. Some people use two flashes, I’ve found one to work well for me.

Here’s the set up I used for the shot I’ve shown, with all the equipment mentioned.

Getting the Shot

The process simplified is:

  1. First drop is released
  2. After a delay the second drop is released
  3. The camera and flash fires after another delay to capture the collision of the drops

In detail, the process requires that you set the number of water drops, the water drop sizes and delays. In the image shown I created two drops.  Getting the droplet delay and shutter activation timings right can be a case of trial and error and it does take some time to achieve the effect you want. The bonus of using the MIOPS water dropper is that the app that controls it allows you to tweak the settings very easily and you can get great results.

Basically you are aiming to create the first drop, allow enough delay for the second drop so that the first has hit the water surface in the reservoir and caused an upward splash drop. The second drop hits the peak of this upward splash to achieve the effect shown and then the camera needs to capture that moment. You’re working in milliseconds so timings are an effort to get right. Once you have them dialled in though, you can enjoy a good run of shots.

It sounds complicated and in some respects it really is! I took around 300 photos and I’d say only about 10% of them were usable. So it demands patience and a willingness to experiment.

Plenty of Scope

There are lots of ways in which you can experiment with this form of photography, colours, the number and size of drops, the liquids and all manner of ways in which you can achieve different results. This stops you getting bored of it. It’s one form of photography that I couldn’t do every day though as it takes time to set up the gear, to tune the timings and then go through all the images to find the keepers. Keeping it as something to be enjoyed is where I’m at with it.

Please do feel free to comment on this article by using the comment form below. If you would like to see more of my water drop collisions, which are available to purchase as framed prints, you can find them in the abstract gallery on this site.

Over to you...