Water Drops 102

So you want to know more?

The plastic bag method is quick and easy, but not very easy to control or accurate to be honest, but it is honestly more fun to start with the basics. If you are planning on doing more than just the one water drop shoot its well worth building yourself a Marioette Syphon, or in plain English a bottle with some tubes attached. Its time to get all Blue Peter! You are going to need an empty plastic bottle, about 1m of aquarium airline tubing, and some silicone/bath sealant. You can get the air tubing and silicone from any garden centre with a fish shop, which to be honest is all of them, and it will cost you under £5. Aquarium sealant is stronger than bathroom sealant and gives a longer lasting seal.

Mariotte_Siphon1A Mariotte Syphon maintains the same speed of drops of water no matter how full the bottle is. You probably noticed with the bag method that the drops slow down as the bag empties, its all to do with air pressure and the amount of water in the reservoir. You can vary the rate of the drops by changing the height difference between the bottom of the tube inside the bottle and the end of the tube outside the bottle. For these bottles to be effective they MUST be air tight as they rely on the only the air only being able to enter the bottle down the vertical tube. I have made half a dozen of these over time and have a nice method. You need a nice sharp drill bit the same diameter as your airline, you want to only just be able to force the tubing through the hole. Now make a hole in the middle of the lid of the bottle, and one close to the bottom of the bottle in the side, get some sandpaper and scratch up the lid and bottle around the holes, this helps the silicone stick.. The lid is easy to seal as you can get to both sides with your silicone,  you want to cut a length of tube so it is about 5cm longer than your bottle, and push it thru the hole in the bottle top so it reaches right down to the bottom of the bottle. The bottle is trickier, I found that if you push the tube through the hole by a cm or so then add some silicone around the hole, push the tube in so its to the middle of the bottle which will drag a tiny bit of silicone through, then pull it back a couple of mm you get a slight seal on the inside of the bottle. You want this tube to be fairly long  Plaster the outside of the bottle round the tube with more silicone. Using WET fingers you can mould the silicon a little to get a better seal, don’t try this with dry hands! Finally leave this totally alone, I mean don’t touch it at all for 12 hours, 24 to be sure, the slightest movement of the tubing before the silicone has set will give you a leaky bottle.

Now how to put this new toy to use. You will need to find a way to attach the drip tube over your tray of water, my tried and tested method was to tape a pencil to the end of the tubing, to keep it straight, and use a bulldog clip, or tape to attach the pencil to length of wood over the tray of water.  A small funnel is handy for filling the bottle, as once you have the drips positioned over your tray you don’t want to have to keep moving it. You will also want to grab a pile of DVD or CD boxes, you use these to adjust the height of the bottle until you get the drops dripping at the rate you want. I usually work with a drop height of about 50cm, but this isn’t critical, when I started using this method I had my tube stuck to a long spirit level on the kitchen work top, and my tray of water sitting on a small coffee table on the floor. Experiment with different heights for the bottle by putting fewer or more DVD boxes underneath it, CD boxes offer finer control, you can even use CD’s to adjust the height by a couple of mm at a time, it does make a difference.

I did say I would try to explain how to get some of the classic water drop collision shots, and I wont lie, its not easy using this method, but its a damn sight easier than using a plastic bag. This little video shows what I mean by a collision shot, its when a second drop hits the spike created by the first drop.


This video is made up of a lot of still frames taken using my magic box of tricks (part 3 or 4) with 100ms between drops, or 10 drops per second. If you can get roughly that rate of drops per second from your bottle, you will get some nice shots. Rather than take 100’s of pictures trying to get this flow rate, a good tip is to get you drips flowing in, turn off the lights and stare at where the drops are landing and keep popping your flash until you see a nice shot. The bright light burns the splash image on your retina and you will see a still image, adjust the drip rate by changing the height of the bottle if you dont’ see anything after 10 or so flashes. Raise it up to bring the drops closer together or lower it to slow them down. Once you have ‘seen’ the shot you will have a good drop rate, and start firing off some shots on the camera, don’t look at each image, just keep pressing the shutter and then fire the flash gun. As before you will just know when you have an image worth looking at on the camera, as it will be burned onto your retina by the flash in a dark room. All of these images where taken using this kind of setup, I have literally 1000’s more, 50-100 of which are OK and about 10 worthy of printing out at poster size so don’t expect a high hit rate.

The nice mirror like surface is hard to get using a bottle, as you have to capture the first drop. You need 3 hands at this point or an assistant, as you need to hold a cup under the flow of drops, press the shutter, remove the cup and fire the flash gun. In the next instalment I will try to explain different compositions, camera angles, liquids and lighting and maybe some really nerdy electronics stuff. I can’t give any sound advise on placating wives or husbands who don’t understand drop-heads :-)  so now might be a good time to get your wife/husband some flowers or beers. Until next time.

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