She Shoots Seashells…

A collection of assorted seashells; these were the very shells used in the water drop project detailed here.  All content Copyright Audrey R. Smith.

A collection of assorted seashells; these were the very shells used in the water drop project detailed here. All content Copyright Audrey R. Smith.

For awhile now, I’ve been watching people’s Facebook postings and Flickr uploads and seeing the water drops image.  You know, the one where they sprinkle water drops on a piece of glass, and photograph an object on the other side of the glass to make a bunch of miniature images in the drops themselves.  (More creative types with access to pretty gardens photograph water drops there, reflecting lovely images.)  Well, I wanted to try it myself, just to learn a new technique.  I didn’t want to shoot just anything, especially something already trademarked.  Having no access to a pretty garden full of colorful flowers, I decided to use what I DO have available, living near the beach: sand and seashells.  Admittedly, the shells were a pre-purchase from my mother from a store , so I have no idea where they were collected, but the sand came directly from the beach.  My macro set-up was my trusty old DIY gig from previous posts, and all post-processing was done in Lightroom and Photoshop CS2.

First attempt at abstract water drop images. You can see the blobby undefined drops and reflections.

First attempt at abstract water drop images. You can see the blobby undefined drops and reflections.

My mornings are quite busy with getting family ready for school and work, so I waited until the sun began setting; at this time of year, it is around 4:00pm.  I wanted golden light on my shells.  I selected a few and arranged them in a semi-attractive but not over-the-top way.  My piece of glass came from an old scratched-up cheap picture frame.  Suspending it were two bricks, and my shell arrangement was underneath, about seven or eight inches away.  Using a lens hood on the glass itself, I made sure to eliminate any extra glare on the water drops. I knew to make sure my glass was clean and free of smudges, so I took a bottle of vegetable glycerin and put a few drops on it to check my focus.  They seemed kind of blobby, but I could see the shells reflected in at least one drop.  The problem came when I realized I must be on a slight incline, because the second drop began sliding into the third drop.  I was under the impression that glycerin held its shape better, but I must need to research that a little better.  Very soon, my lighting was gone, as the sun had dipped too far behind the trees. I Googled what others had done, to see what I had missed.  Turns out, I missed a couple of important steps!

My second attempt, which gave more pleasing drops and reflections, but my light had faded, as evidenced by the cyan cast.

My second attempt, which gave more pleasing drops and reflections, but my light had faded, as evidenced by the cyan cast.

The next afternoon, I tried again, this time while also trying to cook dinner, as it falls at the same time (I hate Daylight Savings Time!).  I used the same setup, only this time, I took a spray bottle of water to make a variety of sizes of water drops, rather than just a few of general size.  It also was easier to clean up, as the glycerin made things a bit gummy.  Before spraying the water, however, I fixed the problem I had had the day before: I used Rain-X on the glass to make the water form nice beads, rather than the shapeless blobs I had encountered.  My biggest mistake was again not leaving enough time in the day to shoot; by the time I had gotten off a few shots, the light disappeared again.  I was using a gold reflector to bounce light in and add a nice warm tone, but it just wasn’t having it.

My third--but not final!--attempt at abstract water drops.  Note the shaped drops, clear reflections, and more defined subject underneath, plus the golden tones I wanted.

My third–but not final!–attempt at abstract water drops. Note the shaped drops, clear reflections, and more defined subject underneath, plus the golden tones I wanted.

I tried again this afternoon, for the third day in a row.  This time I knew my setup, so prep time was minimal.  I started fifteen minutes earlier, when the light was just barely too harsh, because I knew it would fade quickly.  My glass was Rain-X’d, my shells had already been rearranged (this time including more), and my tripod was still set up from the day before.  I put out everything quickly, sprayed my glass, focused my shells, and started shooting.  Success!  Third time’s a charm, right?  The light was bright, but not too extreme for a staged beach scene, especially with the nice golden tones from the reflector.  The water beaded nicely, and the drops held position by not spraying too much.  I had been shooting at f/16 the previous two days, but after viewing the images full-size on a computer screen, I found that wasn’t enough depth-of-field for what I had envisioned.  I ended up shooting at f/25 on my Canon 40D with my DIY setup of a Promaster 28-105mm lens (at 105mm) and an extension tube.  That gave me plenty of detail in my water drops, and enough definition on the shapes of the shells underneath that they didn’t turn into dull-colored amateurish eye vomit.  You can see the third image here has more pleasing DOF and color tone.  I liked the result, as it came close to what I was hoping to accomplish with an effect of being underwater, or at a tide pool.  I have some more ideas for that, so I think tomorrow I will explore the large water drop idea from before; only now I know how to do it!  We’ll see if my setup will work for it…

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