Thursday, February 14, 2008

February, 14, 2008: Viscosity Experiment 001

A few days ago, I was really frustrated by the weather delaying some planned shots I've been working on. So, I decided I needed to develop some "mini-studio projects" I could work on at home when my planned shoots ran afoul of the misfortunes of daily life ... getting off work late, torrential downpours, prior commitments, etc.

One thing that has always fascinated me is photographs of drops of liquids colliding with other liquids or a solid surface. So I used the Google and started searching for information on how these shots were taken.

I found an excellent example of this type of photography by Martin Waugh at Liquid Sculpture. I decided to try and go low tech with this because I had seen a lot of water drop photos on Flickr, and I don't really have the budget to buy an electronic audio or motion trigger.

I thought about how to accomplish this for a few days an came up with a very basic idea of how to best attempt to photograph a water droplet colliding with a solid surface or the surface of another liquid.

I set up my camera with a 28-105mm zoom with a +4 close up filter so I could get get my camera really close to where the droplet would fall. I then filled a clear baking dish with water and placed it on a table in my den.

In order to keep the camera stable, I needed some kind of support I could get close to the dish of water. So, I went to Wal-Mart and searched through the crafts section until I found some wooden slats about 1/4" thick; they only cost $1.44 for a pack of eight.

Simple enough, I drilled a 5/8" hole in one end and used a 1/4" bolt with some washers to attach a ball head to the slat. Then I clamped it to the table with a couple of C-clamps and mounted my Canon D-10 to it.

Next, I needed a stable platform to drop the water from and to support lighting. I just used a tripod for this. I centered it over the baking dish and removed the center column and tripod head. Then I took a piece of cardboard and punched a hole in it with a ballpoint pen. I centered the hole on top of the tripod where the center extension column was and taped it down.

I used an eyedropper (2 for $1.83 at Wal-mart) to squeeze out the water drops. I filled it up and stuck it in the hole in the cardboard. Then I rounded up three construction lamps with aluminum reflectors from my tool closed and clamped them to the right side of the tripod. On the opposite side, I used one of my sketch books turned to a blank page as a reflector.

My first shots were way off from where I though I should be. I was having trouble focusing on the surface of the liquid accurately. So I took out a credit card, floated it on the surface of the liquid and let loose a drop of water colored with green food coloring. I manual focused on the drop on the floating card and I was set to go from there.

I triggered the camera with my right hand and used my left hand to squeeze out drops from the eye dropper. Overall I shot about 150 frames in RAW format. This was basically old school, I just stayed patient and tried to time the release of the shutter based on trial and error. Overall, I was pretty pleased with the results. Refining my technique and improving the setup is going to be the next phase.

Here is the basic set-up. I'll post a photo of the set-up once I refine it more. There are a lot of adjustments I need to make. So, for now, my written ramblings will have to explain things.

The image at the beginning of this post was taken at 1/1000, f 5.6 and lit by three 100 watt household bulbs. There are a couple of dust spots in the image, but, I'm not really worried about that. This was an experiment, so it was a learning process and not an artistic endeavor.

However, I learned several things from this experiment. The first thing is obvious from this picture. The bright streak in the image to the right of the water drop is a reflection off an aluminum leg of the tripod. The hot areas running across the top third of the image are reflections from the glass baking dish. Both of those problems are easy to correct. From the photo, you can see where the tiny droplets moving away from the point of impact are blurred. I'll have to add more lights so I can use a faster shutter speed and higher aperture. That way I can stop the movement and increase the depth of field a little bit.

This is another photo from the first experiment. You'll notice the "e" below the impact area easily. Also, the same blown out highlights are visible as well. This series of shots gave me a pretty good understanding of the impacts of water on water. I'm going to have to experiment with a lot of different liquids to see how they react on impact. This will require me to get a little more education about viscosity. The way I see viscosity in my mind is that it is the density of the liquid in question. This isn't an accurate definition of viscosity though. It's just easier for me to wrap my mind around the concept by thinking in terms of density instead of resistance to change.

Anyway, my next step in this project is to develop a better lighting setup and experiment with different liquids. Maybe drop milk into orange juice or Diet Coke into cooking oil.

I had a lot of fun with this. The results aren't spectacular. But, is was so much fun, I want to keep plugging away at this particular project.


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