Posted by Clare Richardson

Back in February, completely oblivious that I even had an un-awakened fascination with water drops,  I went to the Photography Show at the NEC and spotted the EOS Magazine Stand. Being a Canon user, I duly subscribed. Part of the subscription package allowed to me to select three random back issues. I rather technically chose the ones with the prettiest pictures on the front!

This was one of the magazines:

The article inside by Corrie White was really interesting and the images clearly awakened my fascination, inspiring me to have a go myself. I started off with a quick search in YouTube  to learn a basic set up, as the article revolved around very expensive mechanical kit. The video tutorial suggested a bag of water and a pin to make a hole, giving a constant drip. Camera set up was advised at 1/250th sec, the flash sync setting, with an aperture of roughly f/8-f/11. I initially used my 24-70mm L lens for this. I got the odd image, out of hundreds of frustratingly bad images, of the water splashing and rather liked the concept. My images were blurry though and this was (and still is) a recurring thread for me with this style of photography.

During a very early attempt a happy accident occurred with two splashes colliding. The merriment and gasping that ensued demonstrated I needed to find a way to time this happening more frequently, as these images had the most appeal. Much googling led to a purchase from a well known auction site for a “water drop machine”. This machine promised to guarantee capturing the exact timing of two drops colliding.  What could be more perfect and simple I thought!? (It turned out to be harder than anticipated!)

This is the machine with my initial set up and the second image shows a later set up.

The machine delivers two drops (occasionally three accidentally) via a solenoid. There’s a control unit that connects to the camera and the solenoid/water tank. It has four dials on it. Dial one controls the size of the first drop, dial two the timing of the distance between the two drops, dial three controls the size of the second drop and the final dial controls the timing of the camera shutter.

You can set it up to time for either a crown, simple splash or collision. Whilst it’s possible to time for these specifics, I find the machine is not particularly consistent frame to frame. However it’s far more consistent than trying to do it manually!

Here’s a few of the images that were captured in the earlier stages of using the machine.

All of the above images were taken with my Canon 7D, two wirelessly triggered flash guns and my 24-70mm f/4L lens. The second and third images were taken at a shutter speed of 1/80th second, on a flash power of 1/64th with the use of flash gels. The first image was set to the standard flash sync speed of 1/250th second.

Upon reading the article in the magazine again (before undertaking to complete this article) and making more sense of it, now that I’m a little more familiar with the set up, I have had another attempt at water collisions. This time I have used my 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens and have gone for a longer exposure of ½ a second, combined with an aperture of f/22 and the flash on 1/64th power. These settings probably seem odd for a phenomenon happening so quickly it’s hard to even see with the naked eye.  The shutter is open this long to help compensate for the flash lag. It’s not the exposure that freezes the motion, it’s the burst of flash that freezes it. Any higher a setting on the flash than this and you’ll then end up with more motion blur, not less.

Here’s some images taken 9th May.  Still a work in progress, but I feel improvement has been made. I certainly make up in enthusiasm that which I lack in skill!

I’m really looking forward to bringing this kit to camera club on the 15th May, with the hope that more knowledgeable members will brainstorm and advise on ways to further improve future images. I never tire of taking water droplet collisions, as each and every one seems totally unique. My next goal is to conquer double flash exposures, with a slight delay, to create a double splash as each flash burst freezes a slightly different timing in the exposure.

My fascination with water is also now extending to waterfalls and dew drops! The mind boggles!

Anyone with a Canon, compatible with the 7D remote cable release, which accompanies my kit, is welcome to hook up to it and give it a whirl. It’s temperamental at best, but hopefully you’ll be able to capture some pleasing images.

Unfortunately I don’t have much more to offer on this subject, at this time, as I’m rather new to it myself. Hopefully I’ll be able to add to this in due course as my skills progress. I’m already thinking I “need” to buy the kit that has three different fluid tanks to deliver various coloured drops at the point of collision.

As with every other genre of photography, I’m swiftly realising the wish list is never fulfilled!