Water Drop Photography Tutorial

As a result of the positive feedback I received from my smoke photography tutorial, I have gone ahead and conducted a second tutorial, this time for water drop photography. As with smoke photography, water drop photography can easily be done using a cheap DIY setup and only requiring a few essential items. Here is one of the final images I have selected.


What I Used:

  • Canon 5D Mark II with EF 24-70 f/2.8L lens
  • Tripod to ensure stability while shooting a series of images
  • Canon Speedlite 430 EXII set remotely off camera
  • Flash trigger
  • Old paint tray filled with water to capture the water drops and create the splash effect
  • Small clear bag filled with water
  • Piece of white and orange bristol board to bounce the flash off
  • Towel and lens cloth (my first effort resulted in the bag dropping from three feet, thus soaking everything in the room)
  • Safety pin
  • Pen
  • Lightroom 4 and Photoshop CS6 for post-processing


  1. Fill the paint tray and bag with water. Hang the bag about three feet above the paint tray. I used a light stand on some boxes to hang the bag, but anything will suffice that keeps it stationary.
  2. Set up the camera on a tripod approximating where you estimate the drops will land. Zoom in as close as you can while still allowing your AF to properly detect focal points (especially if you aren’t using a macro lens).
  3. Set up the bristol board behind the paint tray, and place your flash so that the light will bounce off the board. I began with a white piece of bristol board, then switched to orange partway through (explanation below). Do not illuminate the water directly.

Here is what my setup looked like:


Taking the Photo:

  1. Get your camera and flash ready. As usual, settings will vary by preference, but for a reference I used manual mode with ISO 100 (reducing noise), f/8.0 to get a sharp image, and a shutter speed of 1/200s. I set the flash at 1/8 power in manual mode.
  2. Put a small prick in the bag with a safety pin. Make the hole small, or water will emerge in a stream rather than a steady drop.
  3. Once the water starts to drop, place a pen in the location where the drops are hitting the water in the paint tray. Use this as a reference point for your AF. Once properly focused, switch your lens to manual focusing.
  4. Turn off any overhead lights and start shooting. Take as many photos as you want, the more you take the better chance you have of keepers.
  5. Note: switching the bristol board affects the colour of reflective light. With white you have a more neutral cast, orange an orange cast, etc. You can adjust many of these settings in Photoshop, but I prefer to do as much work in camera as possible.


To be honest, I did not conduct a lot of post processing for these images (again the benefit of achieving the desired result in camera). Adjusting the white balance in RAW allows you to create a variety of colour casts, and of course cropping is essential to emit unwanted areas. Be careful not to adjust the clarity sliders too high, as noise and artifacts can be a major issue with these photos, even with ISO 100. In PS try toying with various Hue/Saturation colours to create some neat effects. Below are a couple of more shots from this session

TAllen-2014-01-31-6479 TAllen-2014-01-31-6483

Water drop photography is a creative project with the potential to yield amazing results, perfect for a cold winter day. I hope this post encourages you to experiment, and always push yourself to take your photography skills to the next level. For any further information please e-mail me at travisdanielallen@gmail.com.


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