Water Drop Collision Art

In an earlier post, I wrote about my initial experiments with water drop splash photography. This can be accomplished relatively easily with basic speedlights. A simple balloon filled with water and poked with a pin can serve as a workable drop device.

However, to move into the fine art realm of water drop photography, you need more sophisticated equipment.

miops
MIOPS Water Drop Splash Kit

Timed Water Drop Splash Kit

This device can accurately control the size of a water drop. Different drop sizes will give different effects. The distance from the device nozzle to the water surface is also a factor.

But most importantly for fine art water drop photography, splash kits can control the interval between two water drops. That’s important, because what we are trying to photograph is the collision of two water drops.

There are primarily two sources for water drop splash kits. The one I use is the MIOPS kit shown in the photo. These are available at prices ranging from $65 to $129. I paid $74 for mine on sale at a reputable camera store.

The thing I like most about the MIOPS device is that it is controlled by a smartphone app. Using the app, it is very simple to ‘dial in’ the settings you want. This is important because some adjustment of settings is required nearly every time you begin a photo session.

The other brand primarily in use is made by SplashArt. The design is similar but the SplashArt device uses a dedicated control panel. Adjustments of drop size and release interval are made by adjusting vernier knobs, much like a light dimmer. There are no specific markings so it is more difficult to achieve repeatable settings with the SplashArt.

One advantage, at least to some, is that the SplashArt kit has a brass water nozzle. The MIOPS nozzle is plastic. Some proponents claim that the metal nozzle has smoother edges and thus produces a more uniform water drop.

That may be, but the SplashArt device retails for $399, more than four times the street price of the MIOPS and more than three times the manufacturer’s suggested price. For the difference, I can deal with small variations from the plastic nozzle.

Basic Setup

water drop setup
Water Drop Setup

The overall setup is straight-forward. A container which holds water for the drops to fall into is placed on a suitable table. The splash kit is suspended above it (both brands come with attachment arms for a standard light stand). The camera is mounted on a tripod and the surface of the water is lighted with one or more strobe lights (speedlights work perfectly).

It’s also best to place the water dish (I use a black plastic rectangular tray) inside a larger container to catch the overflow. For best results, you want the water dish to be completely full, so each drop may result in some overflow. As shown in the photo, my overflow tray is simply a glass baking dish.

Camera Settings

The splash kit automatically triggers the shot, and it can do this in one of two ways. In either scenario, the photographic session is conducted in a dark studio — you want all of the light provided only by the flash / strobe unit(s).

Camera Direct

The kit can trigger the camera directly, with the camera then triggering the flash unit(s) just as it would on any normal studio shot. In this case, I recommend the following:

  • Shutter speed: 1/80
  • Aperature: f/11
  • ISO: locked at 100, or the camera’s lowest native ISO.

The shutter speed is relatively low because the actual freezing of the splash is accomplished by the flash.

Flash Direct

In this connection, the splash unit triggers the flash unit(s) directly, and the camera captures the resulting shot with an open shutter.

Positioning of the camera is the same, but the triggering cable goes to one of the flash units. That flash triggers any other flash units using the slave feature.

Camera settings for this option are the same with one exception: the shutter is set for a long exposure – I use five seconds. This gives me more than enough time to trip the shutter, then trip the splash unit so that the flash unit(s) are fired before the end of the shutter time.

Time between shots is a little slower with this method, due to the requirements to wait for the shutter to close and the need to trigger two units for each photo. However, I find this method to be more accurate.

Lens

Some people swear by a macro lens for water drop photography, and they work great. However, it can just as easily be accomplished with a telephoto lens zoomed in tight on the splash area. The one limitation to this is that, if you are triggering the camera directly from the splash unit, there is a limitation to the length of the connecting cable.

Personally, I use a 50mm prime lens with a 2x macro filter.

Flash

The water splash is captured by the action of the flash unit(s), not the speed of the camera shutter. I use three Godox TT600 speedlights – two to illuminate the splash and one to illuminate the background. (See the setup in the photo above)

For optimum capture, the power of the flash unit(s) actually lighting the splash should be set no higher than 1/64 – 1/128 is optimum. This allows a very short light burst while also allowing for quick recycle of flash power.

The flash illuminating the background can be set higher, depending on the light absorption / reflection of the background material.

Where do we go next?

In the next installment, I’ll discuss the settings of the splash trigger and options for photographing spectacular splash collisions like the one below.

The result of a timed collision of two water drops

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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