Macro photo: how to take abstract photographs with drops of water?

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Joel Fulleda
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Realizing impressive abstract photographs of water drops is not that difficult and produces an original effect. Find out in this tutorial how to achieve this using a macro lens.



Macro photography makes it possible to produce images that are often spectacular by revealing details that are difficult to perceive with the naked eye. It is practiced with a lens that allows you to photograph minute details of fauna, flora or an object. And that's not all ! Very often, macro lenses are particularly suitable for shooting portraits. In this file, we invite you to explore a more abstract dimension by photographing drops of water.

What material?

Some disciplines require specific tools, this is particularly the case with macro photography. As the name suggests, it requires a macro lens, that is, a lens with a reproduction ratio of at least 1:1.

Sigma 105mm F2.8 DG DN MACRO Art Introductory price €749


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How the Sony Alpha 7 III (A7 III) price chart works Introductory price €2300


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  • Digixo 2 151,99
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How the price table works

To make this tutorial, we used the excellent Sigma 105mm F2.8 DG DN MACRO Art recently tested by us. This is obviously not the only reference. On the Micro 4/3 side, let's mention for example the very good M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm f/2,8 Macro from Olympus.


And if some lenses are not strictly speaking macro lenses that do not reach the 1:1 ratio, they can be used. Let's randomly mention the RF 35mm f/1.8 macro IS STM and Lumix S 24-105mm F4 Macro OIS, respectively from Canon and Panasonic. They both benefit from a 1:2 ratio.


The crime scene.

A macro lens, a camera and a tripod

The camera does not require any particular technology, quite the contrary! However, some aiming aid systems can be practical, such as magnifying glass mode or focus peaking – the sharp part of the photo is highlighted during focusing. Also note that a high definition of the sensor makes it easy to crop the image to highlight certain details of the photo without loss of quality.

In macro photography, the depth of field is very small and complicates focusing. The use of a tripod is therefore practically essential. It will also allow you to photograph with a long exposure time to capture enough light.


Two drawers previously emptied will act as supports.


Glass and waterproofing

After talking about photographic equipment, let's talk a bit about the subject: the drop of water. Simply sprinkled on any surface, water tends to clump together in uninteresting puddles rather than dispersing in well-rounded, aesthetically pleasing drops. To achieve the desired effect, you must use a hydrophobic product that will "tighten" the water in the form of bubbles. Examples include Baranne type waterproofing agents for footwear and Rain-X type rain repellents. As often, it takes some experimentation to find the best solution. Indeed, the nature of the hydrophobic product used and its quantity changes the shape and rendering of the drops of water.

If a smooth surface is quite the case, we recommend the use of a transparent glass to be able to achieve many effects. The glass is smooth, easy to clean and relatively hard to scratch. On the other hand, it is relatively fragile. If it is possible to buy cut glass in a DIY store, we ordered a photo frame which has the advantage of being able to be reused for its initial use. In addition, the edges are beveled and avoid the risk of injury.


Do not forget to protect your work plan.

A spray bottle, water and some help

To spray the water on the surface to be photographed, we recommend using a spray bottle to generate a very fine mist that will deposit countless regular drops on the glass.


The most motivated will equip themselves with colored backgrounds, clips, trestles, flashes or reflectors. The possibilities are numerous and allow multiply the effects. But rest assured, it is quite possible to obtain an excellent result without equipping yourself with the full panoply of the perfect photographer!


We should have removed the robot vacuum to make it easier for us.

Installation

As we mentioned in our file on indoor photography with natural light, it is advisable to position yourself well in relation to a window to obtain sufficient lighting. In our case, we used two empty drawers as supports for the glass. Without a garden or garage, we take the images in the kitchen of a Parisian apartment. It is therefore necessary to protect the surfaces to avoid spraying the places with waterproofing agent.

Then we fix the camera and its lens on the tripod. For our tests, we used Sony's Alpha 7R IV (A7R IV) paired with the Sigma 105mm F2.8 DG DN MACRO Art. Remember once again that more modest equipment can still produce very beautiful images without difficulty.

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Don't overlook the details

If sharing on social networks can be satisfied with an approximate image quality, a printout, a full-size preview or a crop will quickly reveal the slightest defects; the main one being a rough focus. But it will also be necessary to beware of a poorly cleaned surface, dust or water that is not perfectly clear. In some cases, the hydrophobic product may also leave a slight visible mark when drying.


On this badly exposed test, it can be seen that the support was badly cleaned. Waterproofing that is not completely transparent can also leave streaks. © Guillaume du Mesgnil d'Engente / TechnologiesTips

And it is not always possible to correct these inconveniences in post-production. As much to put all the chances on his side at the time of the shooting. This requires systematic verification of the photo directly on the device or on the computer and a new installation and new shots if necessary.

What settings?

A few simple settings can make life easier and create beautiful abstract images of water drops. The tripod thus allows long exposures to reach the exposure in case of lack of light. The use of artificial lights (flashes, spots...) can be very practical, but it is not mandatory. Here are some recommended settings:

  • Close the diaphragm to increase the depth of field.
  • Disable auto ISO sensitivity to avoid uncontrolled quality loss due to electronic noise.
  • Switching the device to M mode (manual mode) is often the most convenient.
  • For further editing work, consider activating Raw recording.


Focus peaking indicates areas of sharpness in red. Above the collimator, the perfect alignment of the triangles will indicate the correct focus.

Use manual focus

Not all macro lenses have autofocus, and it's not always the best solution to get a perfectly sharp image anyway. Manual focus is often more convenient, but requires some experimentation. The magnifier mode or the focus peaking are of great help. Hybrids like the EOS R5 or R6 allow you to have a precise focus guide to move like a collimator. So sometimes you have to know how to use the settings of your camera.

We start

It's finally time to get started. Once the glass is covered with waterproofing agent, we position it on the improvised support before spraying the water; be careful not to spray nearby camera equipment or electrical devices. It is better to proceed in small steps and add water if it is missing, the reverse being impossible.


Here, the camera's black and white mode was used with maximum contrast accentuated. The ISO sensitivity was set to ISO 102 to intentionally generate electronic noise. © Guillaume du Mesgnil d'Engente / TechnologiesTips

Give the water time to gather in the form of drops thanks to the waterproofing agent. Depending on the product, the amount of water and the desired result, the wait can take up to several minutes. You can now take pictures. Doing several tests empirically can answer many questions. This is also one of the rules of this dossier and of photography in general.

Unleash your creativity

To obtain a convincing and original result, you have to carry out as many tests as necessary and immerse yourself in creative research. To obtain a colored background, we used tomatoes of different colors bought for the evening meal. Colored lids of plastic boxes also do the trick. A black t-shirt makes it easy to create a dark background.

Use original color profiles — if your device supports it — to improve the result. Do not hesitate to reinforce the saturation or the contrasts, for example. Also use the white balance to adjust the color tint.

View EXIFBrandSONYModelILCE-7RM4Speed8/10s, aperture: f/4.0Sensitivity200 ISOFocal, expo shift1050/10mm, 0/10 EV
Download: JPEG


An interesting effect achieved by losing focus. © Guillaume du Mesgnil d'Engente / TechnologiesTips

Once the natural light is gone, it is still possible to use flashes or other light sources. The flash of a smartphone is also a good complement to provide additional reflections. Adding color with filters or LED lighting is also possible. Those who want to go further can also add a dye to the water. Combining or destructuring all these parameters varies the captured images infinitely.

The final touch

Even if the result is sometimes excellent when it comes out of the box, it can always be improved in post-production (correct small defects, revive colors, adjust exposure, crop the image, etc.) using software cataloging or retouching. You can even play on the contrasts, highlights and lowlights to refine the images.

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Galerie d'images

View EXIFBrandSONYModelILCE-7RM4Speed32/10s, aperture: f/4.0Sensitivity100 ISOFocal, expo shift1050/10mm, 0/10 EV
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© Guillaume du Mesgnil d'Engente / TechnologiesTips

View EXIFBrandSONYModelILCE-7RM4Speed32/10s, aperture: f/4.0Sensitivity100 ISOFocal, expo shift1050/10mm, 0/10 EV
Download: JPEG


© Guillaume du Mesgnil d'Engente / TechnologiesTips

View EXIFBrandSONYModelILCE-7RM4Speed32/10s, aperture: f/4.0Sensitivity200 ISOFocal, expo shift1050/10mm, 0/10 EV
Download: JPEG


© Guillaume du Mesgnil d'Engente / TechnologiesTips

View EXIFBrandSONYModelILCE-7RM4Speed1/100s, aperture: f/4.0Sensitivity65535 ISOFocal, expo shift1050/10mm, 0/10 EV
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© Guillaume du Mesgnil d'Engente / TechnologiesTips

View EXIFBrandSONYModelILCE-7RM4Speed1/1s, aperture: f/4.0Sensitivity200 ISOFocal, expo shift1050/10mm, 0/10 EV
Download: JPEG


© Guillaume du Mesgnil d'Engente / TechnologiesTips

View EXIFBrandSONYModelILCE-7RM4Speed8/10s, aperture: f/4.0Sensitivity200 ISOFocal, expo shift1050/10mm, 0/10 EV
Download: JPEG


© Guillaume du Mesgnil d'Engente / TechnologiesTips

View EXIFBrandSONYModelILCE-7RM4Speed2/1s, aperture: f/4.0Sensitivity200 ISOFocal, expo shift1050/10mm, 0/10 EV
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© Guillaume du Mesgnil d'Engente / TechnologiesTips

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