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How to photograph reflective water droplets??

Robert Thommes , Jul 15, 2002; 06:39 p.m.

On occassion I have seen photos of water droplets which show a reflection of an object that is behind them. Most recently, there was a beautiful example of this in the July 2002 issue of Popular Photography in an article featuring the American flag. I tried something similar, but with no success. I'd appreciate if someone could describe, in detail, just how this is done.

Thank you.


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Paul Purcell , Jul 16, 2002; 05:59 p.m.

It's not actually reflective, it's the water acting like a lens: surface tension pulls the surface of the drop as much as possible into a spherical shape, which is just like most lens elements ( until the recent aspherical elements).

What you need to do is get close enough to focus on the drop, or in that picture's case, on the bulge the drop makes on the windshield. Then you focus on the image within the drop, so you'll need a close focusing lens.

I've seen the same effect using dew drops laying on horizontal flower leaves, transmitting the flowers, and using the drops of dew on a spider's web.

Dew as a lens

Philippe Gauthier , Jul 16, 2002; 06:54 p.m.

The short answer: it depends. On the shape of the droplet, its positionning relative to the object, etc. You'll have to move around to find a spot where the drop of water effectively acts as a lens. In the picture above, only one drop acts as a magnifier.

2:1 macro shot.

Blaine Franger , Jul 16, 2002; 07:06 p.m.

First, get a good macro lens that preferrably has capability of 1:1 macro ratio. I have taken a few of these photographs (my most sucessful one above) and the easiest way to do it is this- First set up the object that the water drop will be hanging from and then set up the camera and compose the photo. Then bring in the object that will be magnified in the water drop. Move that object around while looking through the camera. You will be able to see when it looks right while you look through the camera. Remember that the focus is very critical...Do not focus on the water drop itself, you actually need to focus on the image you see inside the drop. Also, you will probably improve the photo if you light the object behind the drop, as well as lighting the drop itself. Good luck Robert.

The hardest part is getting the water drop to stay still!

Glen Johnson , Jul 16, 2002; 07:53 p.m.

Some of the best images I've seen in this style have used glycerin instead of water. The higher viscosity makes it stay put better. It will hardly evaporate, although it will still flow somewhat under the pull of gravity.

Peter Langfelder , Jul 16, 2002; 07:53 p.m.

Objects in water droplets

A recent POW was a portrait through water droplets; there is some discussion about the technique there as well.

Brenda Marr , Jul 16, 2002; 08:08 p.m.

Other water droplet problems

Is there some related advice in trying to get water drops/dew to look on film as they did in life? I recently tried to photograph some leaves in the very early am just after sunrise, because they looked glittery and cool, like the leaves were coated with diamonds or the like. On film, they just looked white and kind of moldy. This was very small drops like a mist and not a macro shot - taken at a few feet distance with a 50mm prime.

I have saved the reflection advice for future...reflection! :)

Thanks, Brenda

Craig Bridge , Jul 17, 2002; 12:43 a.m.

Brenda, to see the features of water droplets or images projected into them, you have to treat them as macro subjects. Even a large drop from 2 feet away with a 50mm won't be big enough on a 35mm frame to be enlarged enough and retain enough detail.

Steve Hovland , Jul 17, 2002; 12:25 p.m.

Blaine: Great picture and explanation.

David Henkel , Jul 17, 2002; 02:10 p.m.

There's an article in PopPhoto regarding water droplet photography.

It's in the March 2002 issue titled Waterdrops by Darrell Gulin.

Includes all sorts of useful information on this topic.

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