Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Marble Drops

This week's assignment on dPS was "Texture". I have been shooting a lot of photos with texture lately. These mostly involves wooden surfaces. But this time I wanted to do something different.

A friend of my told me about a shot he had seen some years ago, with water drops on a glass plate. Under this plate some pencils were spread out in a star shape. I thought that sounded really cool and wanted to do something similar.

I didn't have a glass plate but after some searching in our kitchen drawers I found a large bowl with a flat base. I thought that the pencils had to be outside the depth of field so I put this bowl on top of some DVD covers so that I got some space between the bowl and pencils.

I didn't have all the pencil colors so the color wheel wasn't complete, but to drive to the store to buy more pencils would be insane...

I thought I was on a roll. The setup was almost too easy. Of course I bumped into a big problem: the water drops. I didn't have any equipment to make water drops. A pipette would be perfect, but we didn't have any. I searched every corner of the house to find something, but no. The closest thing I found was a soap dispenser in the trash. I had to wash it for 30 minutes just to get all the soap out of it. Still that wasn't enough. But I was impatient so I thought I just had to deal with it.

I filled it with water and tried to make small water drops. It was an awful tool to work with. It wasn't completely watertight so it poured water everywhere. That's not a good thing when you want to control the flow of water.

Caution: Nudity in the photo below:

I didn't count the time, but two episodes of King of Queens ran in the background before I finally got a pleasing arrangement of water drops. Easy math:) A tip: It was easier to use cold water than hot water. The water seemed less liquid in a cold state so that they didn't mix very easy.

OK, now with everything set up it was time for the fun part: The lighting. I didn't have any plan for that, but I wanted to try soft lighting first. I mounted an umbrella close to the pencils and did a manual test shot.

Suprisingly it looked good and I hadn't done any adjustments to the camera nor the flash... I was afraid that the top of the umbrella would ruin the whole scene but no glare was visible:) Still I wanted to tweak the settings and ended up with the following:

Flash: 1/16 power @ 24mm zoom
Camera: 1/250 @ f/4 ISO 200
Lens: Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D AF

Finding the right aperture was tricky. I wanted as much of the drops in focus but still I wanted the pencils to be as blurry as possible. f/4 was a good compromise.

I did a couple of shots with different angles and heights and ended up with this shot ("straight out of the camera" RAW file)

After adding some blacks in Adobe Camera Raw I imported it to Photoshop and did the following:

  • Increased the brightness a bit in Levels
  • Increased the contrast in Curves
  • Added a vignette with the Lens distortion tool

The result:

Marble Drops

Marble Drops

What I could have done differently:
  • Bought a pipette. I would have had much more control of the water drops and the shape so that they would have been more or less circular and uniform. I think the "pencil star" would be more visible in each drop that way.
  • Increased the height between the pencils and the glass bowl so that the pencil would become more blurry.


Dorothy said...

From your photo on Flickr I never would have guessed that those were colored pencils underneath the glass. Wow....you put the rest of us (namely me) to shame for my silly photo of a grapevine..hahaha. Really you amaze me at how inventive you are...when it rains I take photos of pennies (lol). Keep it coming, the winter will be long!

Lori Putman said...

Zetson, your creativity never ceases to amaze me. Beautiful job and great write-up.

P.S. What's a pipette?

zetson said...


So nice of you to say, dorothy! I'm glad you like my descritptions. I try to demystify the pictures hoping that I actually can make an influence in someone else's photography. That would mean a lot!

Indoor photography can be exciting. Makes room for experimenting with the light, so I think you will see mostly indoor shots from now on. Yes, the winter will be long, and it starts any second now...


Thank you very much, Lori!!

A pipette is a tool for tranfering small amounts of liquid. When I think of it, it's actually the same thing as the Eye Dropper tool in Photoshop:)


poinsiana said...

Amazing! Very cleverly done and an excellent outcome.

zetson said...

Thank you very much, poinsiana! And thanks for looking:)

natalie said...

thanks for the behind-the-scenes look at how you did this :)

zetson said...

You're welcome! And thanks for the visit:

Leona said...

I showed my 9 year old daughter your picture on flickr. She wanted to know how you did it. It was great being able to show her exactly what you did. She said it looks like fireworks in the rain.

zetson said...

leona, I'm glad to help you:) And I really like your daughter's interpretation!

Suram said...

first glance I thought that the colored pencils were something like a colored neon starburst above the glass. Thank you for explaining how you did this.

Dayo said...

dude, am so amazed at your creativity...