ADP Photography | Project: The Birth of Time

Project: The Birth of Time

May 17, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

The birth of time; a drop of refraction.

Just as splash photography has to be tried at least once, I think water droplets must be given a go too.  As I mentioned in the splash blog post, this type of project, though not exactly original, is very useful, especially if you are getting used to a new camera or even just getting into photography. 

In your own home, and with a few hours to spare, you can take your time setting up and adjusting settings.  It helps you get used to where things are in your camera's maze of menus, it helps you get used to the triangle of shutter speed, aperture and ISO too.  Also it adds a bit of off-camera flash into the mix as well.  There’s no rush to find or refine settings…take your time!  So it’s another of those projects that ‘keeps me out of trouble’.

As well as taking you on a learning curve, or providing extra practice, it can also produce some wonderful results.

There are of course specialists in water drop photography.  Their images are amazing, and I don’t pretend to come close.  To facilitate serious drop photography, companies produce special water drop kits.  You can set it up so the drop is consistent and this helps you produce the drop clash: two water drops colliding - one on the way down hitting the rebound of a previous drop on the way back up.  It produces an stunning images when done well! 

Another extension to basic drops and splashes is the addition of refraction, that is, using a background image behind the water drops to refract through the water

Me, I don't have a drop kit and no, I’ve not tried the drop clash - yet.  Maybe one day.  But refraction and the drop…yes.  I give you 'The birth of time'!

Birth of Time 2Birth of Time 2

The Birth of Time, f/22, 1/250, 105mm (macro), ISO200 

The metaphor for this image only grew out of the finished shots.  I hadn’t really thought about any meaningful title at the time of shooting, it was just a project.

The setup

A printed clock image (flipped on the PC so it prints back to front), was placed on the wall behind my plate of water; my reservoir to create the drops.  Water bends light, so the backwards image behind the water is seen correctly when you look through the frozen water drops.

Curtains were drawn to reduce ambient light in the kitchen.  They’re not so thick so the room wasn’t completely dark.  Kitchen?  Yes, the kitchen...no studio!

A large baking tray was employed under the plate to catch spillage.  Above this I placed a freezer bag, tied to the cupboard door handle.  No hole was made yet...far too early for drops and drips to start flowing!

The Canon 70D, which I use, can remote trigger a flashgun, so I placed my Canon 430 EXII flash to my right as I faced the water setup.  Side lighting I felt would be more interesting than just placing the flashgun on the top of the camera.  I set up my camera on a tripod, about a metre and a half away.  With the Sigma 105mm macro lens it gave me an area of about 7 cm of sharp focus when combined with a high aperture of f/22, (this lens retains good sharpness even at this number)!  

Flash power was set manually to 1/16, the lower the power, the faster the burst of light.  As a result, the flash freezes motion, not the shutter speed – having a suitable ISO, I used 200, keeps the appropriate amount of light to display the back drop to the flash.   Image Stabilisation was turned off (I actually remembered to do it!!!).

A cable release was attached.  Using the shutter button on the camera would be more awkward and could disturb focus, also I find the cable release helps me to time the shutter much better.

Next, focusing.  I flipped the focus to Manual so that auto focus wouldn’t affect the images as I worked.  I followed an imaginary line down from the lowest corner of the bag, where I would make the hole, into the plate below.  I adjusted the position of the plate, estimating the position of the drop to hit the centre of the water.  I then placed a small heavy ornament in the centre of my reservoir and adjusted my focus.  Then I made sure that the front of this ornament was as sharp as possible by using Live View and zooming in 10x. 

Test shots were then taken.  The settings for ISO and flash power mentioned above were not the first ones I tried.  It’s trial and error.  I repeatedly adjusted the flash power and the ISO until the front of the ornament was nice and clear.

The ornament was removed.  Now I made the hole in the corner of the bag with a safety pin.  The hole shouldn't be too too big, you don’t want the drops to come too fast!  The drops began! 

Next I took a couple of shots. 

Don’t worry about catching the drop rebounding from the water right from the get-go.  First just ask yourself: were those shots bright enough?  Sharp enough?  Adjust your settings and focus as you need with the next drops.  Once you are happy with sharpness and brightness, then you can start trying to catch the drop hitting the water.  Either to catch the crowning effect, or the rebound of a drop coming up from the reservoir.

How many shots did I take? Erm, a lot! Maybe 100?  Not sure.  Many were deleted after import as they were clear misses.  Only finish when you are sure you have got the shots you want.  Put your glasses on if you need them to check sharpness.  Make sure your best timed shots are tack sharp before you pack up the setup!  Don't make my premature termination error!

The birth of time then.  Well, some of the missed shots showed only ripples, inevitable with this type of photography, but as you see, the clock face is still reflected, often with a Dali-esque distortion of the clock face in what could be the primordial soup of creation.  And in the well-timed captures that caught a drop of water rebounding back up; the clock face is refracted in that small bead of watery glass and elements of the clock's reflection are still visible in the reservoir at its feet.  Eh voilà! Time was born!

Primordial Soup?

Birth of Time 1Birth of Time 1

The star from the flash on the top image was a complete fluke.  I don’t have the technical prowess to create that deliberately in camera (or in Photoshop for that matter), it was a wonderful stroke of luck.  The picture without the star still would be nice, but the star gives it that extra special something.  A certain je ne sais quoi, no idea why I am ending paragraphs in French now!  That's 2 in one blog post...

Anyway, have your tried drop or splash photography?  Share links to your galleries or post comments.  I’d like to see you work!

Best wishes

The Frustrated Photog.


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