Photo Experiment: Water Droplets

Photography with Water Droplets Photography with Water Droplets Photography with Water Droplets Photography with Water Droplets Photography with Water Droplets Photography with Water Droplets Photography with Water Droplets Photography with Water Droplets Photography with Water Droplets

Another dull weekend. Time to work on another indoor photography idea. As it happened, I just recently came across a video on YouTube showing how to take beautiful abstract images by shooting through a glass pane with water droplets on it. I already had most of the things I needed to do this myself at home – the rest was gathered quickly with a trip to a local hardware store and investing a few Euros.


Gear Settings
  • Camera
  • 1-2 external flashes
  • Remote trigger for the flashes
  • Tripod with pivoting center column, or boom stand
  • Remote shutter release
  • Glass pane
  • Spray bottle with water
  • Manual focus
  • Manual mode
  • ISO 100
  • 1/125 second
  • Aperture ƒ/22
  • White balance: flash
  • Flashes: manual mode, 1/8 power


The most important requisite for this setup is of course the glass pane. It should be free of scratches and stains, and wiped clean. It doesn’t need to be large; 12″×16″ is enough. You’ll something to support it; I improvised with water bottles and drinking glasses. Finally, I used some construction paper as the background.

The setup for the camera on the other hand was quite a challenge. I couldn’t use the auto-focus, because in most cases it focused on the objects under the glass pane, rather than on the droplets on top. With manual focus, even at ƒ/22, the depth of field is so shallow that when shooting handheld, the inevitable swaying when standing bent over the table caused most many of the pictures to be out of focus, so I needed a different solution.

Many large (and expensive) tripods have a center columns that pivots for such purposes – my little travel tripod doesn’t. Hence, I tinkered with my light stands. By combining one with a reflector holder and a spare tripod head, I created my own boom stand for the camera. I weighted down the feet of the light stand and made sure all bots and clamps were tightly secured, but still, it was a quite rickety construction. For very careful handling of the camera I needed to use a cable release for the shutter. In the end, this provisional arrangement fully served its purpose.

Setup for the Photo Experiment "Water Droplets"
Setup for the Photo Experiment “Water Droplets”: The glass pane is resting on four water bottles (~12 in. high); later, I put it on lower drinking glasses. In addition, I varied the distance of the camera. When positioning the flashes, you need to ensure that the edge of the glass pane does not cast a shadow into the image.

I placed the flashes on opposing sides of the setup. With a number of a test shots I made sure that the light from the flashes doesn’t create any unwanted reflections on the glass. You also need to avoid that the edge of the glass pane casts shadow lines into the image.

Next, I added the water. I treated the glass with a rain repellant for car windows. This creates a kind of ‘lotus effect’, so that the water doesn’t create just a big puddle, but nice individual drops. Then I sprayed on the water with a simple spray bottle, until there were sufficiently many and large enough droplets.

Finally, I gathered all the items I wanted to place underneath the glass pane to shoot them through the droplets: fruit, a flower, as well as fabric and some utensils from my wife’s treasure chamber ♥.


The final look of the images mostly depends on three parameters:

  • Distance between the glass pane and the object underneath
  • Distance between camera and glass pane
  • Focal length of the lens

Depending on how you vary these, you can fit items of different sizes into the frame, as well as changing the ratio between the sizes of the item and the water droplets it is seen through. The photos in the gallery give an impression on how different-sized drops affect the image using the same background object.

Setup for the Photo Experiment "Water Droplets"
Setup for the Photo Experiment “Water Droplets”: ISO 100, ƒ/22, 1/125s, manual focus adjusted using live view. The flashes are adjusted and triggered via the Godox X1c, and a cable remote is used to trigger the camera.

I tried various focal lengths; most of the images were taken either with the Tamron SP 90 mm ƒ/2.8 Macro, or the Canon EF 50 mm ƒ/1.8, while using identical camera settings. These can be quickly explained:

  • Aperture: ƒ/22. I wanted to have a large depth of field, so that the water droplets as well as the objects underneath would be shown sharp in the final image. I tried different aperture values as well, but I liked the images taken at ƒ/22 the most.
  • ISO: 100. Since the flashes rendered enough light, there was no reason to compromise image quality.
  • Shutter Speed: 1/125 second. The exact value doesn’t matter that much; the important thing is that a photo taken without using the flashes is completely dark. This way, there will be no unwanted distracting reflections of windows or other ambient light sources on the droplets.
  • Flashes: 1/8 power. I set their output in manual mode so that the photos were correctly exposed. When I used very bright or very dark items, I adjusted the power accordingly.

It took a few attempts until everything was how I wanted it to be – but not too long, and then I was ready to start.


After everything was set up, the main challenge was to play around with different items and see how they look like seen through the water drops. In general, colorful items give the best results; however, the patterns should not be too small. Otherwise, the image will be very busy due to the manifold repetition of the pattern in the droplets.

In addition to the objects, I also varied the distance to the glass pane, the focal length and the aperture value. Another possibility for changing the size of the droplets in the image, and thereby alter how the pattern is repeated, is to move the glass pane. Typically, you’ll find larger drops in the center of the sprayed area, and smaller ones further out. This also changes over time. As water evaporates, the smallest drops will disappear entirely, and only the bigger ones remain.

Every time the distance between the camera and the glass pane was changed, or I chose a different focal length, I needed to refocus manually. I used the camera’s live view at 10× magnification. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds, due to the rickety construction of my makeshift boom stand. But with a steady hand, I accomplished the focus adjustments as well as taking the images.


As often is the case with such experiments, the devil is hidden in the details, and some problems only show up once you view the images on a large computer screen.

  • The glass pane should really be free of scratches. Even miniature scratches, barely visible with a naked eye, will clearly stand out in the final picture due to the large magnification. This is enhanced by the fact that while the droplets are round, scratches are mostly linear, hence show up as a distracting element. As a result, I deleted all images from my first attempt, and replaced the glass table top by a glass shelf from a display case. The glass from a picture frame might be suitable as well, if it doesn’t have any scratches.
  • A large depth of field requires lots of light, which is why I resorted to using the external flashes. Since the items under glass pane usually don’t move by themselves, it is also possible to take these pictures using only ambient light. You’ll need to watch out for reflections on the glass pane and the water droplets, though (ceiling lamp, windows, TV…). In addition, due to the slow shutter speed, the camera needs to be mounted in a very steady manner.


Recommendation: Recommended for imitation – a nice photography variation for a dull weekend. The images created this way make beautiful backgrounds for smartphones, tablets, or slide show presentations.

What I’ve learned: Improvisation. You don’t always need expensive studio gear to take great images, if you know how to help yourself with what’s around the house. And thus, you can turn rather boring items and turn them into interesting pictures.


Picture Credits: All pictures – own images.

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