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The next time you are feeling creative and have a whole day to kill, try some macro photos of splashing water drops. It can be exhilarating! Follow these 12 tips to create stunning works of art. First you will need a DSLR camera with flash. For recommendations, see my post:
DLSR Gear Recommendations and Portable Lighting Kit.
1. Assemble Photo Gear
2. Assemble Photo Drip Kit
3. Setup Camera: f/14; shutter: 1/250; ISO: 200
4. Setup Off-Camera Flash: 1/16 power to freeze water drop
5. Start Dripping Water
6. Fine-tune the Focus
7. Turn Lights Off & Shoot Away!
You will need a DLSR, Tripod, Flash, Radio Trigger/Receiver, Macro Extension Tubes (see links below) or a Macro lens. See my recommendations for DSLR Camera Gear here.
For $55 – $60 you can purchase Macro Extension Tubes to convert your lens to Macro. I have tried the cheap ones for $12 and you cannot change the f/stop (aperture) so they are a waste of money. The $60 version works great and they seem to be just as good as the $160 version. The key is to buy the least expensive set that gives you “auto-focus.” This means you will get the metal pins to connect with your camera, so you can change the aperture. You will want to use manual focus, but if you don’t buy the auto focus model, you won’t be able to change the aperture. You can play with different combinations of the three different rings to get as close as you need.
I recommend using these tubes with a prime lens. The inexpensive Canon and Nikon 50mm 1.8 lenses work great. (I used my Nikon 85mm 1.4 lens, but you don’t need to spend $2000 on a lens to get these results.) After trying several different tube sets, here are my top recommendations for macro extension tubes:
A. Glass Rectangular Baking Dish half-filled with water
B. Something black to place under the glass dish
C. Ziploc Bag (sandwich size) half-filled with water
D. Lamp or Stand to attach Ziploc Bag to
E. Colorful paper on wall or box behind the dish of water (I just paint colors on a blank page in Photoshop, then print it out)
You can experience with camera settings, but I found the following to work well: f/14; shutter: 1/250; ISO: 200. Add two or perhaps all three of the extension tubes to your camera, then place your prime lens on the end. A 50mm 1.8 lens works great and it very affordable. (Check my DSLR Camera Kit for links to buy one for $110.) Also, be sure to setup your camera on a tripod and turn off your lens VR or IS. The Vibration Reduction (or Image Stabilization) only helps when you are hand-holding your camera. On a tripod, you will actually get more camera shake VR or IS. You can google this and find all kinds of documentation on the topic. I definitely get sharper images when it is turned off, but only when on a tripod.
Even though I have remote flash trigger in my Nikon D7000, I prefer to use my inexpensive $25 Cowboy Studio Trigger (Buy the Trigger here) because it allows me to fire the flash continuously. Set your flash on Manual at 1/16 power. By the way, the YN-560 Flash works great for this and all speedlighting needs. It is 90% as powerful as the Canon/Nikon $500 flashes, has all the features you need and costs under $80. (Buy the Flash here). At this low power, you can shoot a long time with one set of fresh batteries. The key point to remember is that you need a quick burst of flash to freeze the water drop. It is important to shoot in the dark, so ambient light won’t blur the motion or add ghosting.
Use the very tip of a sharp toothpick to make a tiny hole in the corner of a Ziploc Bag. Add water and clamp, tie, or tape the bag to a lamp or something that can be moved to place the drops into the focus plane.
This is a critical step, because you must have tack-sharp focus on the main drop and splash action! You will need to use a pen or similar object to focus on. Just hold the pen so it is in sharp focus. Then move the dripping water into the same place.
Once you have a sharp focus, turn off the lights and start pressing the shutter, being careful not to move the camera at all. It would be even better to use a remote to avoid camera shake.
Have fun with this and let me know what you think. Also, stay tuned for the next few blog posts… I will be posting more of my Macro Water Drop images.