Water Drop Collision Art – Part II

In this installment, I continue the discussion of how to take photos of water drop collisions. You can view Part I here.

Setting Up the MIOPS Splash Kit

Setting up the splash apparatus is the most difficult part of this type of water drop photography. However, once you have achieved the correct settings for your particular setup, successive shoots require only minor tweaking of those settings.

The settings of the water drop kit depend on three factors:

  • The height of the drop nozzle above the water pool
  • The time required for the first drop to hit the water pool and splash back to its maximum height
  • The delay between the first and second (and third, fourth) drops

The timing is also affected by the temperature of the water (and its viscosity if you choose to add color or thickening agents to the water drops. More on that later.)

The goal is to photograph the collision of two water drops at the moment they collide and while the splash of the first drop is at maximum height.

Height of the Drop Nozzle

water drop setup
Water Drop Setup

The first consideration is the height of the nozzle above the water pool. This is measured from the top of the water pool to the bottom lip of the nozzle.

You will find recommendations of heights up to 15 inches above the water pool in various ‘how-to’ videos. However, I find that 8 inches provides a good fall time for the drops. Greater heights may allow the drops to be affected by air currents or their own changing shape.

Before I make the measurement, I always fill the water drop container to the very top, even allowing some water to flow over into the catch basin. This insures a consistent reference point should you wish to resume a shoot without disassembling the setup.

Gauge the Timing of the First Drop

As I mentioned in the first article, the water drop action is frozen by the short duration of the flash, not by the shutter speed of the camera. However, since the flash duration is very short — remember that we want to have the flash units set at 1/64th power, or even 1/128 — we need to build in a delay before flash fires.

This delay allows the first water drop to fall the distance from the nozzle to the water surface, then rebound upward. This produces a spike to set up the collision..

On the MIOPS Splash Kit mobile app, select a single drop. (We’ll add the second one later.) The length of time that the nozzle solenoid is open determines the size of each drop. The default value is 50ms. However, I have found that I like an initial setting of 60ms better.

The next setting is the delay time between the instant the drop leaves the nozzle and the moment the drop rebound reaches peak height. This will vary by the flash unit(s) used — even units of the same make and model will vary slightly — and environmental factors such as water temperature and viscosity.

On average, the amount of time that it takes the electronic signal to travel down the wire from the splash controller to the flash unit is 92ms. Therefore, this is a good place to start. You keep taking test shots until you achieve a photo of the single drop at its maximum height.

water drop tower
The spike

The spike will look something like the photo at the right. It will be relatively straight and rounded at the top. In practice, you should add about 10ms between each test series. Take at least three shots for each setting to allow for the inevitable anomalies of water drop action). As you get closer to what you see as the maximum height, vary the settings by only a factor of two or three ms until you ‘zero in’ on the best setting. (For my equipment, I found that the best setting varies between 185 and 200ms delay, depending on the environmental factors of the individual shoot.)

The Second Drop

Once you have the initial drop setting locked in, you can continue to set up the second drop. Press the + button on the app display to create the additional drop.

As with the first drop, two settings are presented — the size of the second drop and the delay. Varying the size of the second drop will result in different collision patterns. For an initial setting, I use 35ms.

The delay setting sets the time between the moment the first drop leaves the nozzle and the moment the second drop leaves. Since the setting for the first drop accounts for flash delay, the delay time for the second drop will usually be very close to the circuit delay time, or 92ms. In practice, I have found that my delay time varies from 77 to 94ms, depending on water temperature.

As before, take test shots — at least three at each setting — until you ‘zero-in’ on the correct setting. In practice, you will often see the second drop suspended in the air. That indicates that it is still falling when the spike reaches maximum height. In that case, you need to decrease the delay time.

beginning collision
Almost there …

In the photo at right, you can see as close of an ‘almost’ shot as you will likely get. The second drop has collided with the peak of the first drop, but the spike has already started to fall. In this case, I decreased the delay time from 78ms to 77ms, and got perfect photos. (Yes, we are dealing with very short and precise time measurements. This is why I prefer the exact measurement of the MIOPS trigger to the vernier adjustments of the Splash Art trigger.)

Bringing It All Together

Once you have zeroed in on the proper adjustments for your current photo shoot, it’s simply a matter of deciding what other elements you wish to add.

Possible options are

  • Colored backgrounds. I use silk handkerchiefs and, occasionally, velvet backdrops. I find solid color backdrops to be the best choice.
  • Colored splashes. By adding food coloring to the drop reservoir and/or the water pool, you can achieve some spectacular results.
  • Multiple Drops: Try increasing the number of drops to three or even four. You will have to adjust the delay times and sizes, just as you did for the second drop, but this adds a whole new dimension.


close crop

Post-processing of water drop photos is usually straight-forward. I like to shoot a little wide so that I can decide in post how much of the ripple of the water pool I want to include. In some cases, as in the photo at the right, I crop in to only show the result of the collision.

late drop

Sometimes, even the ‘almost there’ shots can be interesting when cropped close. In this photo, the spike is starting to fall but the spike bulb and the second drop remain in contact. The timing of the second drop was technically late, but this shot was still a ‘keeper.’

One thing to look out for in post processing are water drops on the lens. With the proximity of the lens to the subject and the fact that you’re dealing with splashing water, spots on the lens are almost inevitable. Just be aware of the possibility, try to keep the lens clear, and remove any spots in post.


In the photo above, showing my setup for water drop photos, an orange cable is visible connected to the camera. Portrait and headshot photographers will recognize this as a tether cable.

While tethering – connecting the camera directly to a computer – is most often used in studio portrait photography, it is also helpful in shooting water drops for many of the same reasons:

  • The display of each shot on a larger screen allows for better evaluation
  • The photos are already on your computer so you don’t have to make transfers to begin post-processing.
  • You can flag ‘misses’ for deletion as they come up on the computer, rather than having to search through a lot of photos uploaded from a card.

Keep Shooting

Even when your settings are ‘perfect’, there will still be shots that aren’t usable. Sometimes a drop skews slightly to one side as it falls. This creates a tilted spike that the second one can completely miss. Sometimes, even with proper settings, the timing of the drops is slightly off. Just keep taking shots and you will be amazed at the variations.

Many of the results from two-drop collisions will be some version of a circular pattern on top of the spike. However, you will also be greeted with some surprising – and fascinating – results.

One of my favorites is the result below. I call this photo ‘Kiss an Angel Good Morning’

water splash
Kiss an Angel Good Morning – surprising water drop collision

Good luck with your efforts at this type of photography. Feel free to post any questions in the comments section below. I will do my best to answer them.

Be sure to visit my photo web page where you can view several examples of this type of art. All photos are available for purchase as digital downloads or prints.

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This entry was posted in Fine Art, Macro, Studio, Water Drop Photography and tagged , .

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