focal length: 105 mm
shutter speed: 1/250
aperture: f/11
ISO: 400
flash: fired - 4 speedlights off-camera at 1/16 power each

I love our photo club because we actually get together to shoot and try new types of photography. Inspired by one of our member’s water drop shot from the week before, we wanted to try our hand at it too. It turns out that the setup can be very simple but can also get more complicated if you want it to.

For simplicity’s sake, I’ll just share with you the basic recipe for photographing water drops.

Materials Needed:

  • camera with a macro lens (other lenses will work too)
  • tripod
  • at least one external flash (the more the better)
  • a system to fire the external flash off-camera
  • eye dropper
  • bowl of water
  • colourful or bright backdrop
  • towel
  • an assistant or two

Step-by-step:

  1. Set up your working area. Put your camera on a tripod. Set it up in front of a bowl of water and have something colourful or bright behind the bowl. Your flashes should be placed to shoot at the background and not at the water.
  2. Set your exposure manually. Try f/16, ISO 200, 1/250s to begin and make adjustments as you go. Since you will be relying on your flash to light your subject, you can use a small aperture (for great depth of field), low ISO (for sharpness and greater detail) and a high shutter speed (no faster than your flash sync speed though).
  3. Set your focus manually. If you have live view, here is where you can use it. Use a pen or the dropper and place it in the water approximately where the drops will fall and use that to help you focus. Oh, and make sure your lens is switched to manual focus only.
  4. Figure out how you’re going to fire your flashes off-camera. You can use a PC sync cord, Nikon CLS, master on-cam and slave off-cam, pocket wizards (or equivalent) etc. Find out what works for your system.
  5. Set your flash power as low as possible. The higher the flash power, the slower the flash will recycle, which means you can’t take shot after shot after shot right away. By having more than one flash you can set them all to the lowest power so they will recycle faster and you can take more frames at a time.
  6. Shoot away! Make adjustments as you go. Adjust the white balance in camera for different colour casts or change the backdrop. Try not to shoot too many frames at once so your flashes have time to rest.

I just changed the white balance to tungsten in-camera to get this blue image.

Simple enough right? That’s all it takes to get shots like the ones above. I didn’t even do much post processing either. I just boosted the contrast a touch.

For you over-achievers out there, there are many variations to photographing water droplets and can get as complicated as you want to make it. Check out Martin Waugh’s Liquid Sculpture portfolio for inspiration.

If you give it a go, please leave a comment. I’d love to see your shots!

Laura is a Vancouver wedding and portrait photographer. Visit laurahana.com.