Water droplet photography can seem intimidating to many photographers, yet it’s actually pretty straightforward. All you really need is a camera and a way to make water drops. But if you want stellar shots like the ones in Shawn Knol‘s album, pull out a few basic lenses and a speed light, then mix in a lot of patience, and you, too, may come up with shots like these:
To begin shooting water drops you really need nothing more than a camera and a tripod, but the best results will generally include a speed light and at least one macro lens. The shots in this album were taken with the following equipment:
- Camera: Canon T1i
- Lenses: Sigma 105mm f/2.8, Canon 50mm f/1.4, and a set of Kenko extension tubes
- Lighting: a 430EX II speed light with a homemade diffuser
You will also need some way to create the water droplets: either a pipette, a plastic bag with a hole in it (for an even, measured drip), or—if you’re ready for a more serious investment—a drip kit.
3 Key Elements for Awesome Water Droplet Shots
1. Light placement
Light what the water is reflecting, not the water itself. If you’re confused about what to light, look at what you see reflected in the still water from your camera position. (Most of the time this will be your backdrop.)
Timing your shots is the most challenging (and hopefully fun!) part of capturing water droplets. Pressing the shutter a split second before the drop is where you want it to be will help compensate for your shutter delay.
3. Flash duration
Your flash units should be set at lower power—start with 1/16. Low power gives you a quick burst of light, and the light burst is what freezes that water droplet mid-splash. For most water droplet photography, you’ll want your speed lights to be your main source of illumination, so shoot in a (relatively) dark environment–the flash speed and your shutter speed should be pretty much the same.
Other Tips for Water Drop Photography
- If you are having a hard time using water, you can use glycerin (which is what food and beverage photographers use) instead.
- Use milk or food coloring for additional effects.
- For shooting droplets on spider webs, try setting your shutter speed at 1/200 and not mixing in any natural light.
- If you care about the orientation of the reflection, make sure to place the object being reflected upside down.
Most importantly, have fun!
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