Water Drop Images – a short tutorial

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This topic contains 23 replies, has 17 voices, and was last updated by  P71 1 month, 1 week ago.

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  • #184896

    I have been obsessed with water drops for more than 30 years, since I saw a copy of “A Study of Splashes” by A.M.Worthington.
    What follows is a VERY short tutorial – as with everything photography related there is so much to do and learn, and i simply cannot cover it all off here.

    In 1981 I built my first trigger designed to photograph milk drops and water drops. It was good for capturing images of Worthington Jets. A Worthington Jet is formed when a drop of water hits a body of water forming a crater. If the impact has sufficient force a “Worthington jet” protrudes from the center of the crater. If the impact energy is high enough, the jet rises to the point where it pinches off, sending one or more droplets upward out of the surface.
    Milk Drop (Worthington Jet) circa 1981.

    I have learned a lot since then, and have built several more triggers, and used a number of methods to capture liquid sculptures.
    The basics needed to capture stunning water drops are:
    • Camera with manual exposure and manual focus
    • External flash (speedlight, not studio light)
    • A way to create water drops
    o This can be anything from a baby bottle with a modified teat, a melting block of ice, a zip lock bag with a hole in one corner, an eyedropper, a purpose bought mariotte siphon through to an electronic device specifically designed for high speed photography.
    I am currently on my third generation electronic trigger. The current one uses electronics and a 12v solenoid to release two drops at set (variable) intervals, and triggers the camera shutter via a variable delay.
    Whichever method you use, patience and persistence are a necessity!

    To assist in setting the focal point I use a bolt bought from the local hardware store. I place the bolt dead centre into the catch receptacle, and move it around until my drops are falling onto the bolt as shown below:
    Focus aid.
    I then focus on the threads on the front of the bolt, set my ISO to 50 or 100, and the aperture to f11 or f14, shutter to 1/200 sec. That gives sufficient depth of field to ensure a usable image. I set my flash output to 1/128 power if I am using two flashes, or 1/256 if using just one. With these settings I can shoot in a well lit room without ambient light causing issues in the images. Note: when using multiple flashes they must be set to the same power output, or you will get a type of blurring in the images.
    My setup:
    • 1: Mariotte Syphon on 12v solenoid
    • 2: Stand
    • 3: Backdrop (I use an acrylic A4 document holder, this allows me to change backdrops by simply changing the paper in the holder)
    • 4: Flash units & wireless triggers. I mount mine on two small tripods)
    • 5: Drop receptacle
    • 6: Camera mounted on tripod
    • 7: Ballast (honestly!)
    • 8: Drop controller
    Once you have your equipment setup, and the drip rate right all that remains is to take lots and lots of images. Not all of them will result in keepers – this is true whether you are controlling the camera manually, or using an automated system. Keep going – spectacular images will be the reward.

    Milk is good for starting out with drops. It has a higher viscosity than water, making it easier to catch a well-formed umbrella splash. When photographing milk drops you need to aim your flash units directly at the drops.
    Milk into coffee
    Water is harder to work with because it has a lower viscosity and flows very quickly. Water is at it’s most dense at 4 degrees celcius, so I use ice cubes in the Mariotte Siphon, and chilled water in the drop receptacle. When photographing water-drops you do not light the water directly, but light the background, and reflected light will light the spash. I prefer water personally, though I do shoot both.

    Additives can be used to change the way your chosen liquid behaves. As an example I usually use a drop or two of dishwasher rinse-aid in the catch receptacle. This reduces the surface tension and allows me to get the long Worthington jets that I like, as below:
    Worthington Jet.
    I also use “Dettol Power & Pure” kitchen cleaner in the drop tank, along with a teaspoon of glycerine. This gives the water a little more elasticity and creates the parasol type splashes as in this image:
    A lot of people use Guar Gum or Xanthan gum to thicken the drops. This slows down the reaction, and produces interesting shapes. I have not tried that as yet, but stay tuned.
    Other additives people have used include: Sugar syrup, Fabric Softener, Corn Syrup, various liquid soaps and cleaning products. Experiment and have fun.



    For truly spectacular water drop images have a look at Corrie White’s “Fun with Water” album on Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/10756887@N07/sets/72157613369221788/
    Corrie is the undisputed queen of water drops, and has a brilliant e-book available on the subject. Well worth a read if this is something you wish to get into.

    CC: @admin, @tersha, @choctawjake, @idaybr

  • #184900


    Very interesting and great shots, @dchester1001!

  • #184928

    Thank-you @tobiepsg. Much appreiated

  • #184952

    John Thompson

    What a great tutorial @dchester1001. Well done!

  • #184959

    yrfotos (idaybr)

    Well written and great photos @dchester1001.

  • #184966


    TY I am doing a 52Wk challenge & found this very inspiring & something I will have to try

  • #184989

    Rob Eyers

    Thanks for this @dchester1001. I’ve been enjoying your photos and your process is very interesting.

  • #185083

    Thanks @nikon-nut, @idaybr, @sids62 and @reyers.
    In part two I’ll cover post processing.

  • #185179


    That’s a really good tutorial, @dchester1001, it’s a good read, and I feel I could have a go at this, now. Thanks.

  • #185189


  • #185239

    The Falx

    Really cant add much…..really interesting and informative….had a go a few years um ago and produced a Worthington!…! 🙂 oh and two kids!!! 🙂

  • #185381

    Ed Aldridge

    Great looking tutorial, thanks for sharing!

  • #185602

    The Falx

    Hi David…..great tutorial,really interesting insight into! 🙂

    I had a go a few years ago and only just realised…through your tutorial…that I produced a ‘Worthington Jet’

  • #185696

    Thanks all. A couple of images as a teaser to part two, where I will cover my post processing techniques. Stay tuned.


  • #185749


  • #196501


    Thanks David. I’m bookmarking this so I can always find it.

  • #207474


    Thanks very much David, a great tutorial which demystifies the whole subject. Cheers.

  • #207489

    chris pook

    Second that.

  • #207493

    Kent DuFault

    Wow! What a great tutorial. I had no idea there was so much involved in photographing drops. And the images are totally awesome.

  • #207494

    Kent DuFault

    WOW! I just went and looked at Corrie’s Flickr page. She’s unbelievable. Amazing cool shots! Thanks for turning me onto her.

  • #207517


    As stated above, great tutorial and shots. Thanks

  • #207575


  • #324155

    Graham Hart

    Thank you David for your comprehensive coverage of this topic. I knew there’d be a little bit involved in the process but such detailed knowledge given freely is what makes you and LS so special. Thanks again.

  • #410572


    Just to add my own thanks as well , much appreciated David , Easy to follow with all the crucial info , stunning works you added showing the end results , WOWZERS.

    I especially liked the FIRST image Milk Drop (Worthington Jet) circa 1981.  ( just personal taste ) I LOVE the mood in that image the red / off white and black all make for a sweet minimalist Vibe.

    Not forgetting  Corrie’s Flickr page , like your own and has been said all mind blowing stuff.

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