Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Make the Shot: Droplet Refraction

Keeping our theme of macro and droplet photography (Make the Shot: Water on CD), today's post gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the classic water droplet multiplicity shot.

How to Shoot a Multidroplet Shot

You only need a few basic supplies to replicate a shot like the one above.

  • A piece of glass or glass dishware (I used the glass from a photo frame for an 8x10.)
  • Water spray bottle or eyedropper
  • Plastic wrap
  • Supports to hold up the glass (I used four pint glasses.)
  • Colorful patterned paper or fabrics (You can even use an image on your tablet.)
  • Tripod recommended (Read How to Maximize Your Tripod here.)
The setup, as shown below, is straightforward. Find a spot with a lot of natural light (preferable, but you can also try with indoor lighting too). Place the pint glasses far enough apart that you can easily slide your patterned paper, fabrics, or tablet underneath. Wrap to top of your glass or glass dishware with a piece of plastic wrap. (The plastic wrap will help the water bead up on the surface. Water sprayed on glass alone is more likely to simply run off and smear.)

Use the water spray bottle to cover the plastic-wrapped glass in beads of water. Spray using a fine mist setting. The longer you spray, the more the water will conglomerate and the bigger and bigger your droplets will be. The goal is to have an even collection of similar-sized droplets. (Alternatively, you could mix your water with a little glycerin to increase the surface tension. And/or you could use an eye dropper to carefully place evenly-spaced and sized drops.)

One you have your droplets looking the way you want them, you can lay out your first background pattern piece underneath the glass. (Wait until after you are done spraying to do this part, otherwise your paper will end up soaked.) Then, set up your tripod, if using. You will want to position your camera above the glass with the lens of the camera parallel to the glass. This will ensure even focus across as many droplets as possible. Consider using a close-up lens, extension tubesreverse ring mount adapter, or a macro lens to get an even closer-in shot of the droplets.

Unfocused Droplet Refraction | Boost Your Photography

You will need to shoot with a fairly narrow aperture (like f/14 or f/22) in order to get the entire droplet in focus from top to bottom. The photograph above was shot at the wide aperture of f/2.5, which has a very thin depth of field. In this shot, it is clear that only the top of the droplet is in focus. The sides of the droplet, in contrast, are already blurry and out-of-focus.

This photograph was shot at f/14, which required a shutter speed of 1/3rd of a second. At that slow of a shutter, it is imperative to use a tripod, as any attempt at hand-holding for that long with result in visible camera blur and shake. Even at f/14, you may notice that the smaller droplets are not in focus but that you can clearly see the refracted and distorted views through the top and sides of the larger-sized droplets.

Play around with different shapes and styles of backdrops. 12x12 inch scrapbook paper works really well as a source for patterns, as it is easily obtained, inexpensive, and a large enough size to cover the entire refracted region in the droplets. Both the flowers and shamrocks above were scrapbook paper.

For this image, I used a photograph of mine shown on a 7 inch tablet. Because of the smaller size of the tablet, compared to the 12-inch paper, you can actually see the edges of tablet and even the nearby window refracted in some of the droplets.

Water Droplet Refraction of a Flower | Boost Your Photography

You can also use a single image, rather than a repeating design or pattern. In the photograph above, each droplet is refracting a photograph of a single water lily. This was a 5 x 7 inch photograph, and the white edges of the image are visible in some of the droplets.

You can also see how the refracted image is rightside-up to our eyes but that the original photograph is upside-down. Keep in mind that refracted images will be reversed if you are using an image or pattern that has a discernible top and bottom.

What Will You Refract?

The droplet refraction possibilities are endless. What will you refract? Share a link in the comments below!

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