A Housewife's Recipe for Drop Photography

So you want to take some pictures of water drops? Sure. Not a problem. You basically need the following ingredients:

  • 1 large glass casserole dish
  • 1 thick sheet of white paper
  • 1 heavy duty ziplock bag
  • some sort of construction from which a bag can be hung over the casserole dish1 pin
  • 1 pencil
  • 1 camera with either a macro lens or a zoom lens
  • 1 tripod
  • 1 flash that can be fired off camera
  • a white wall
  • water
Imagine the camera to be on the tripod, ok?

Imagine the camera to be on the tripod, ok?

First, you fill the casserole dish with water. Then you put the white sheet of thick paper in the bottom of the casserole dish. No, not underneath. IN the water. Your casserole dish probably has some stupid markings in the middle, and they will be noticed if you don't cover them up. Ok, I hear ya. Your casserole dish doesn't have stupid markings. Fine. No paper.

Then, you position the casserole dish in front of a white wall. Or, in front of piece of white plastic. Whatever works. I went for the white plastic. My house doesn't have white walls anymore. I draped the plastic sheet a bit to cover the end of the casserole dish. It made for a fun darkness effect. 

Next, you construct your hanging fixture. Make sure it's sturdy. Some people put two chairs back to back and put a broomstick across. Whatever works. I used a light stand and a reflector arm, but I had to weigh it down with my camera bag. 

Then, you fill a ziplock bag with water. Don't overfill it. You hang the bag from the hanging fixture, right over top of the casserole dish with the water. I'd say the bottom of the bag was about 25" from the water, but this can be adjusted later. Once everything is in place, go ahead and prick the bottom of the ziplock bag. A tiny hole is fine. If the bag is too full, the water will squirt out, not drop. No panic. Just let it drop for a while. It will get slower. In the meantime, set up your camera.

Position your camera on the tripod so that the area where the drop hits is positioned in the lower 1/3 of your frame. You can lay the pencil so that its tip points right to where the drop landing area is. This will help you also with focusing. When you are sure that the pencil is exact at the proper spot, go ahead and focus on the pencil tip. Then turn your camera to manual focus. Remove the pencil. Set your camera to 1/250 and f8, ISO 200. 

Set up the flash so that it will hit the white wall or sheet of plastic behind the casserole dish. Set the flash to 1/16 of strength. 

Now go ahead and give it a try. If you manage to get a drop, make sure it's in focus. If not, adjust your focus. The Fuji X-E1 has a handy highlight feature that shows which area is in focus. Anything that will work for your camera is fine, just make sure the drop is sharp. Some drops may be sharp, others may not. The drop sometimes hits other area, or the rebound drop is crooked. No worries. Sooner or later you'll get one that's beautiful AND sharp. Keep shooting. Every drop is different. Don't get into a rhythm. Take pictures irregularly to catch the drop at different stages.

Once you are satisfied with the pictures, you can post process them. I clean up the images from all stray drops or flecks that disturb the final image. And then often I just use ColorFX to colour the white part of the image into any kind of colour I fancy. And crop it so there isn't so much empty space around the small little drop. 

I hope this helps somewhat. It's mostly trial and error. Experiment with the flash. I used 1/8th and 1/16th. They're both nice. Experiment with where you put the flash. Experiment with what you put behind the dish. I choose white because I can colour it afterwards. Other people use coloured sheets. Experiment with what you drop. I want to try with milk, but I don't want to waste food. 

Most of all, have fun! Good luck with it!

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