Photographing Waterdrops: Waterdrops as Lens
Waterdrops reflect and refract the world around them, creating exciting globes of color. But waterdrops also magnify, behaving in this way like camera lenses.
When I’m looking for a waterdrop subject, I’ll often get down low to the ground so I can peer at various angles right at the waterdrops. My idea is to look through the waterdrop to see what this particular waterfilled lens is magnifying.
As with any optics, the quality of the waterdrop is altered by reflection and refraction. With quality optics on your camera, reflections are obviated using modern coatings and refraction is a force that cuts against tack sharpness at small apertures. In other words, with glass optics you usually don’t want reflections or refractions unless there is some special effect in mind.
With waterdrop lenses the situation is different, because it is just these aberrations that create much of the beauty in the tiny compositions of waterdrop worlds.
Below: The closer you get, the less of a range of distance, called depth-of-field, you have in focus. Shallow depth-of-field can work well in an image by isolating the subject of interest from the rest of the photo. But with the below image I wanted the “lens effect”—the subject matter seen through the waterdrops—to seem sharp for each major waterdrop. There was no way to achieve this goal with a single exposure. My answer was to shoot two versions of the photo, one focused on the lower waterdrop and the other focused on the drop above it. With each version sharp on its waterdrop, I used layers and masking to combine the two versions in Photoshop.
Below photo: Two exposures, each taken with a 200mm macro lens and 36mm extension tube, 4/5 of a second at f/36 and ISO 100, tripod mounted; exposures combined in Photoshop.
Below: The sun had just come out after a brief shower, and these drops were suspended on a spiderweb. Seen through the waterdrops, the small flowers are curved and distorted to almost unrecognizable shapes—in contrast to the blades of grass, which appear smaller in size than their “real life” reflections but are otherwise more or less normal.
Photo: 200mm macro lens, 1/8 of a second at f/40 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.
Below: Refraction distorted and curved the flowers seen through the “lens” of this waterdrop, creating an effect almost like that of an impressionist painting.
Photo: 200mm macro lens, 36mm extension tube, +4 close-up filter, 1.1 seconds at f/40 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.
Excerpt from Photographing Waterdrops by Harold Davis © 2012 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.