A Site for Photographers by Photographers

Community > Forums > photo.net > Technique > Photographing Soap bubbles...

Photographing Soap bubbles colors.

Gerard Maas , Nov 15, 2000; 05:20 a.m.

Some time ago (maybe more than 1 year) I saw a review of some photos of bubbles surfaces. The colors and shapes were really incredible. Well, if you have ever stared at the color rainbows that form over the surface of typical blazed bubbles (a kids favorite), you know what I'm speaking about). At that time my photographic knowledge was a little more than nothing but the images stayed in my the back of my head.

Now, I've acquired some knowledge/experience about macro photo and I tried to reproduce those amazing images... without success. All I get is background colors, wet surfaces and soap-covered lenses.

Please, some hints on how to...? Lightning (I'm using flash; I tried backlight and side light),setup and recommended enlargement (I am arround 1x with a 28-135mm and ext. tubes; I've trying the stacked lenses technique (arround 5x), but no real success at the moment: troubles with E-TTL flash metering)

Thanks a lot!!!



Ellis Vener , Nov 15, 2000; 02:12 p.m.

Pete Turner did a series of bubble photographs. He used softboxes on either side of the set and a jet black background. Turner had an incredible duping setup for duping Kodachrome onto Kodachrome 25 to enhance and control colors to surreal intensities.and the colors might have been enhanced in that process. But I would start there and try using polarizing filters on both the lights and the cameras. The reason you have to use large sources close to the subject is because of the surface of the bubble is highly reflective and 3 dimensions. Turner was a perfectionist who might work for days or weeks on a single image, so don't give up if at first you don't succeed.

Ellis Vener , Nov 15, 2000; 02:18 p.m.

I really think you want to go here: Peteturner.com. You might also want to ignore my previous advice.

Ellis Vener , Nov 15, 2000; 07:39 p.m.

When you look at Turner's work, remember that 99% of it was done without aid of photoshop or other digital editing programs.

Struan Gray , Nov 16, 2000; 07:45 a.m.

Soap bubble colours, like Newton's rings, are formed by interference, in this case between light reflected off the inside and outside of the soap film. They appear most intensely when the film is so thin that it has almost turned black - the colour fringes are then 'first order' and are less likely to overlap and wash each other out.

It therefore helps to prolong the life of the bubbles until most of the water has drained out. Putting them inside a box or a bell jar so that they are sheltered from air currents makes quite a difference - it is possible to make bubbles last for days this way. Also, some hobby shops and novelty stores sell special soaps which produce longer-lived bubbles than household detergents.

Because the colours are formed by interference, the saturation of any individual part of the soap film will be most intense when the light and the camera are as point-like as possible. A spread of illumination angles from, say, a softbox, allows several different colours to interfere constructively at once and they end up superimposed on the film together, reducing the saturation. Using a bare flash at a distance and a lens with a long working distance and a small aperture will help boost the colour intensity.

The downside is that often different parts of the soap film have their strongest colours when seen from different viewing angles, so broadening the light source or opening the aperture can make the whole film look more impressive even if it reduces the saturation of some of the individual parts. You need to play around with light and camera placement for the best effect.

A frame dipped in the soap solution will usually give a film that lasts longer than a bubble, and at 5x magnification a planar surface at least has a chance to stay within your limited depth of field all the way across the frame. If you can't tilt and shift to control the plane of focus I would recommend a film on a small wire frame about three inches square (large enough to avoid edge effects) held parallel to the film plane. As the film drains, a black zone of complete destructive interference will advance from the top of the frame downwards, and the film immediately below it will be filled with interesting "angels' tears" patterns and swirls.

Use a black background and as point-like illumination from the front as you can manage. If you can't get enough working distance to completely illuminate the film from the front you can try lighting it with sidelight from behind, but I doubt the colours will be as intense. When adjusting the setup for best effect, either look through the camera or close one eye, otherwise the film won't see the same thing you do.

The light reflected or transmitted by the soap film will be partially polarised, so a polariser on your camera and/or light can help to boost colours too, although the best angles for polarisation are generally not the best angles for interference, and placing the camera parallel to the film will produce the weakest polarisation effects.

Finally, if all else fails, you can try freezing bubbles for some interesting patterns and shapes - but no colours unless you start cross-polarising. This is easiest if you live up north (kids love bubble blowers outdoors below about -15°C - the bubbles freeze and shatter when they hit the ground) but it can be done with a domestic freezer.

Clay Prescott , Nov 16, 2000; 12:14 p.m.

For more bubble inspiration, the July/Aug 2000 Nature Photographers Magazine had an article on seashore photos; the bubble and foam pictures were spectacular! Back issues are available or your local library might also be of help.

John Moran , Nov 17, 2000; 02:11 p.m.

Pull out the polarizer for the color, I've never tried it with bubbles, but a polarizer might reveal some neat colors/reflections.

Jeffrey Rodgers , Nov 20, 2000; 02:31 p.m.

You could try making larger bubbles, like was done in a photo titled "Silver Dreams" at http://members.aol.com/Lewisvisn/home.htm It was done (I assume) with sunlight. Also, add glycerin to the soap mixture, and let it "ripen" for hours, even days... sorry I can't recall the ammounts to use (don't use dish soaps with lemon).

Back to top

Notify me of Responses