Water droplet and milk drop photos are all over Flickr these days. There’s literally so many “splash” images it’s the new sunset. The technique to capture them is fairly complicated though so it’s impressive that so many photographers are mastering it. The difference between water and milk drop photos is that milk droplets have a different density and color, so they create an upwards splash with white beading on the edge which looks very alien.
Stationary or Moving?
There are two ways to capture droplet photos – by splashing one liquid into another or by capturing water beaded onto another surface. The splash photos usually have a single droplet either approaching or hitting the water surface with ripples. Droplet shots are usually found in nature or using a glass place and are much easier to capture.
To create static droplets which act like focused crystals with a bokeh’d background of the actual item beneath you need to shoot through a clear pane of glass or plexiglass with water splattered on top. A golf tee and a Ziplock bag work great if you don’t have a pipette. Place a speedlight level with the top of the glass so that the droplets have a strong catchlight and make sure the actual subject is well lit this isn’t essential, but it does look better. A speed of 1/200 with an aperture of f/2.8 should be right for getting a bokeh while keeping the droplets sharp.
Creating a Pool
Your “pool” of water can be anything from a glass bowl to a coffee mug. Since this type of image requires getting very close it’s unnecessary to have a huge amount of water. Your water needs to be very still to get clean ripples so it’s important to not be too close and to have it in an area away from road vibrations and other movement.
Drop Motion Equipment
You’ll need a few minimum items to make a water drop image with motion:
A macro lens
A water “pool”
A tripod and remote
Pipette with water or milk
Lots of Light
Optional water dropping assistant
Make sure the area is clear and no cables or plugs will get wet from the splash. There’s a lot of patience and trial and error so you’ll need to take lots of photos before capturing one that’s perfect. It’s best to set your camera to burst mode so that you capture multiple images with each drop. You’ll also need to time your drops and shutter release for the drops.
Lights and Action
As the image is quite tight you want to keep the background simple so that it doesn’t interfere with the reflections. At most you should use colored lighting to create a surreal look, but the rest of the image is best plain, so the focus is on the drop using a higher f stop. A plain wall or background is ideal. Make sure your focus is at the point where the droplet will touch the water, something you can test with a single drop and then focusing onto the center of the ripples.
Your shot will need a good amount of light. Natural light works best for outdoor natural droplets but in a controlled studio you’ll need at least one strong light source and a reflector if not additional strobes too. It just depends how well-lit you want your image to be.
Aim your camera down towards the water at a shallow angle if you want to capture more ripples or at a higher angle if the droplet is your focus. Make sure you leave enough space to capture the drop and ripples in your frame.