Assignment five – Applying the techniques of illustration and narrative

In this final assignment for the Art of Photography we were asked to produce images to illustrate a story for a magazine. There is a cover to illustrate and several pages inside, 6-12 images in total. Equipment used Fujifilm Xpro-1 and 18mm lens for illustration. Nikon DSLR, 105mm lens, tripod, flash and diffuser for main images; cover and other water images.

I have chosen to produce an illustration for a photographic magazine  to show how to capture the motion of water drops. Not having any DTP software is a limitation, note to self yet another purchase required, but I will do my best with the tools I currently have i.e.  a limited knowledge of WordPress.


Cover shot:



Water, water everywhere…

Water is a fascinating subject and combined with motion is an interesting photographic topic which lends it’s self well to both blurring or freezing motion. This article will help you understand how you can create the images like the cover of this magazine and on the pages that follow.


The setup for the shoot (you will take many shots) is a considered process. First you need a solid waterproof surface to work on, in my case there was no better place than my kitchen bench, which is also at a good hight for close-up work such as this. The bench having a cutout for the stools that normally live there means I can get the tripod in very close to the work top.


Place a clean paint tray (or any other dark container i.e. a deep baking tray) close to the side of the bench you are going to work from. Setup the tripod and camera to look into the tray, framing so to exclude the sides, front and back. On the opposite side setup the flash unit level and behind the tray.


I have chosen to use a studio flash and a soft box here but you can also use a battery speedlight flash on an extension cord and bounce of a reflector. There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods. The smaller battery gun has less light output (and therefore less DoF in the image) but at short burst settings of 1/64th power gives a very brief flash of light freezing motion well. The studio mains light tends to have a longer discharge duration (and has to be kept at low outputs to compensate) but outputs considerably more light even at short bursts and therefore greater DoF is possible, important for such close-up macro work.


As for the lens, you will either need a macro/micro lens or a normal lens with extension rings to be able to get in close the tray and water. To give you a guide I have used a 105mm micro lens of a full frame camera, so 60mm on an APS-C would be similar.


Once this setup is in place make sure everything is aligned, the camera, tray and flash then add a second stand with the head over the tray as this will hold a bag of water. With a jug fill the tray with water right to the very brim. Get a ziplock bag, a sandwich one is perfect, fill this about 1/3 full with water and seal the top. Attach this bag (ziplock upwards) to the stand above the tray then visually align the bag so it looks to be about mid point over the tray.

Make sure your flash is on, set to manual and I would suggest starting at the lowest power setting regardless of it being a battery gun or mains unit. The reason being is that it will produce the shortest duration flash and your best chance to freeze the motion of the dripping water. This can be re-adjusted later if required.


Now you are getting to the point of taking some pictures, well almost. Make sure the camera is on manual focus and use your finger or a nail to help you focus on the water surface where you want the drips to fall.


Use a pin to place one small hole in the bottom corner of the ziplock bag, this will now start to drip every second or two, and fine tune the placement of the stand to ensure it is dripping at your focus point.

With the camera on manual exposure set your shutter speed to your flash synchronisation speed, in my case 1/250 make a test exposure at f8 to start and take a good look at the histogram for the test image. If the image is too dark I would suggest increasing the flash power ie if set to 1/64 increase to 1/32 power, the reason I say this is that anything less than f8 becomes a real hit and miss affair on the drops being in focus, at such macro distances, as they tend to move around a reasonable amount shot to shot. Alternatively if you can, try to bing the flash or reflector closer to the subject at these distances a matter on inches can dramatically improve the exposure without increasing the power. For a battery flashsetup I would have the reflector touching the back of the tray. If you have the luxury of a second gun I would bring that out to play also.


If the image was over exposed then stop down further, as you can see in the shot of the camera top I was using f22 , this gave me the correct exposure, good DoF and meant not just the drops but also a lot of the resulting ripple remainded in acceptable focus. As a tip, I would strongly recommended increaseing your ISO to a more sensitive setting rather than increase the flash duration or opening the aperture wider than f8.

OK so now you’ve made your test and adjusted the exposure and fine alignment in the frame you are ready to shoot. My prefered method, as is often on a tripod is to ignore the viewfinder and the LCD, I look over the top or side of the camera and time the trigger (remote release is optional but prefered) by watching the action unhindered. Especially for this type of photography you are much better able to observe and timing the shutter firing much, much better to the point at which after a few minutes practice you get it right almost every time.


After a few exposures check the LCD for timing, exposure and framing once more to make sure you are truly happy with all the above. From then on its up to you how many images you take before you get ‘the one’, a good sequence or both. As you can see from the images there are a number of unexpected variations that appear over a resonable timeframe shots, those that were inverted or crowns where not what I had originally invisaged. If exposure, focus and framing are a given the angle of view has the most dramatic effect on the end results in my opinion, try to get as low to the water as you can whilst controlling the framing ie no background objects.


Once you are happy with the shots its time to start having a look at them on a big screen to check them, apart from exposure and framing, check the focus carefully. I’d do this before you dismantle the setup, theres nothing worse than pulling everything apart to realise on closer inspection that you have not quite got the shots you wanted. As you can see I also decided to colour the final images with a blue filter. Have a play with these and see what you prefer. Plus You can experiment with inks and milk, or even progress the other liquids add a shutter trigger to the setup or start using small pumps to produce multiple effects, the options are limitless, perhaps the topic for another article…



So that was the end of Assignment Five and the end of The Art of Photography, which is great to have finished but I am also sad to see the end. I can wholeheartedly say that I have very much enjoyed the module and am so glad that I did not  claim previous credit for the Level 1 courses (hope I will say the same for the next two 😉

So onto the next two Level 1 modules…well perhaps after Christmas!