As a lover of macro photography, I have spent a lot of time looking at macro photos on sites like 500px, Instagram and Flickr. And I have noticed that there are a few key ingredients that often work especially well in macro photos. One of them is water droplets. Water droplets tend to look good at high magnifications, no matter if they are the main subject of a photograph, or if they are just playing a supporting role.
In this article I am going to show you how you can create some neat looking water droplet macro photos indoors, with the help of a few very basic tools.
What you need
- A camera with a macro lens. Any camera and any macro lens will do, but I recommend a macro lens that goes to at least 1x magnification, so that you can make those water droplets look huge! I have found that the classic 90mm or 100mm macro lenses from for example Sigma, Canon, Nikon, Samyang/Rokinon, or Tamron make for great purchases. If you are using a micro four thirds camera, I can recommend the Olympus 60mm macro lens.
- A speedlight, preferably off-camera. I have a set of Godox TT685s wireless speedlights that are cheap and work great. You could also use a normal speedlight and a TTL cable that frees it from the camera. The important thing is that you should be able to direct the speedlight independently of the camera, so that it doesn't have to point straight at your subject.
- A white wall or other surface next to a table. I will come back to this in a minute.
- A spray bottle filled with water.
- A subject to photograph. For this article I used some random small plants from my apartment.
How to go about it
Spray your subject. Try at least two or three sprays on the same spot – the more you spray, the larger the water drops that will form – and larger drops tend to look better.
It is important to get the light right. Ideally, we want to simulate soft morning sunlight, and to get that effect it works best to point the speedlight to the white wall at a distance from the subject of around 15-20 inches or so, so that the light that bounces of the wall comes from a surface at least as big as a basketball. See the video to better understand what I mean. Try to bounce the light so that it hits the side of the water droplets, but also be sure to experiment with many angles of both light and camera, until you find the angle that makes the most pleasing photos.
Be mindful of the background. If you want the photo to look more like it was taken in nature, stick a green object in the background. The background will be very out of focus, so it doesn't matter how the object looks in detail. For example, in the photo below, the green backdrop is a pair of green baby pants hanging over a pillow.
Also try experimenting with other colors of backgrounds. If both your subject and the background are green, the photo might look a bit boring due to lack of color contrast. In the photo below I used a shopping bag with a colorful pattern as background to get some color contrast.
When I shoot with a speedlight, I prefer to use the manual mode on my camera, and also on the speedlight, to have full control of all aspects of the exposure.
I know that the speedlight will be able to give me as much light as I need, so no need to set the ISO higher than 100.
Since I will focus very closely, I know that the depth of field will be miniscule unless I set the aperture to a high number. I usually stay somewhere between f/5.6 and f/11 on my full frame camera, as a higher f-number will cause diffraction softness in the photo.
The highest shutter speed for syncing with a speedlight on my camera is 1/250, and I often shoot at that shutter speed to minimize ambient light – but it is always a good idea to experiment with different shutter speeds to see what effect it has on the photo. The general rule is that the slower the shutter speed, the more non-speedlight light will go into the photo.
When I have set the ISO, the aperture and the shutter speed, I take a test shot at a flash strength of around 1/8, to see how the exposure looks. Then I simply adjust the strength of the flash, or the distance between the flash and the white wall, until the exposure is just right.
Inspire each other
If you happen to experiment with this, it would be fun if you also post your photos under the hashtag #mwwaterdrops on Instagram, so that we can look at each others photos.
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