Lights, contrast and focal plane

With the help of some distinct light sources, something to add contrast and manual control of focus and aperture it is possible to view otherwise daily scenery in a completely new way.Multi-dimensional grids

The above picture was taken with a 28mm lens fully open at f/1.8. Placing focus far from the light sources pulls the light apart.

Bubbles with macro

End of November and rainstorms makes indoor projects seem like a good idea.
Spectrum scud
Using a spare CD, a glass container, a flash light, water and some olive oil it is possible to create some rather interesting pictures.
Zenith from nadir
Fill the glass container with a minimum of water, just enough to cover the bottom. Then add a single drop of olive oil. Stir forcefully, using a fork, to break the drop of olive oil into small droplets.
Place the glass container on the CD with the shiny surface pointing upward. Use a flash light from the side to generate all possible colors from the CD.Macro bubbles setupZoom in, set the focus, and shoot. Depending on the aperture used a depth can be achieved in the reflection off the CD.

Smoke photography

Smoke is a superb source of abstract shape and texture. While difficult to control it can, with some experimentation, yield unique and pleasant forms. To get started you only need a couple of things:

  • An external flash
  • A way to fire the flash remotely. Depending on camera brand and model, a so called off shoe cord may be the cheapest alternative.
  • Something that can act as a snoot. I used an old milk carton. I cut a large hole in the top and a smaller in the bottom where the flash goes in. This limits the light from the flash to go only where you want it do go and not spread out towards the background.
  • A dark, preferably black, background
  • Something to generate the smoke. I used incense.


Pre-set the focus to where you plan to have the smoke. And set the focus mode to manual.
Place the flash on the floor at the focus distance pointing upward. Make sure to have some distance to the background. That way you will be able to make any texture in the background blur away using the correct aperture.
Now darken the room as much as possible, close any windows and doors to keep the air movement to a minimum and start taking pictures of the smoke.
Take many pictures, watch the result and try to get a good balance between the dark background and the light from the smoke. Depending on your camera model you may want to experiment with different settings. I started with the Av mode but quickly moved to all manual.


Also experiment with the aperture to get enough focal depth while keeping the background blured.

The next step is done in you computer. You may want to try things like

  • Invert the picture
  • Rotate and crop – look at parts of the smoke and see what you may find
  • Add a mirror copy
  • Try coloring. Both using layer transforms and grey mapping.


High Dynamic Range – Photomatix Pro

There are a multitude of programs to handle and process HDR. Today almost all standard photo editing software have some kind of support for it – with varying degrees of freedom and finesse.
Old Ford tractor in Stockholm, Sweden archipelago
Photoshop have had it for quite some time as well has other more or less high end photo editing software. The one I like the best, and that I use almost exclusively, is Photomatix Pro.
Very tired Beetle
Photomatix is done by a small company called HDR soft and they have a very nice and reasonable licensing scheme. First of all, you can download it for free and try it out. This gives you some limitations as well as watermarks all over. Still, you will not by it without knowing its capabilities.

Secondly, once you have bought it – it is yours. You have a personal license key that you can use on all your computers. The only requirement is that you only use the software on one installation at the time. This, I believe, makes sense to a lot of people that have laptops and stationary computers that they use interchangeably. It also covers different architectures. So if you have a stationary PC and a MAC laptop you can have the same license on them!
BMW X1 on ferry between Vaxholm and Rindö, Sweden
I have used Photomatix for close to three years and so far all upgrades has been for free – also something to note when you compare to certain other larger companies..
Alfa Romeo, South of France, Italian plates
I get nothing from pitching Photomatix! I just wish HDR soft to be successful and for you to find this nice, cheap tool.

All these pictures and more can be found at

Drop Photography – Multiple drops

When the drop re-bounces from the liquid it forms a column that shoots out towards in the opposite direction. With enough timing it is possible to have a second drop hit that column during its short life span to get other spectacular results.

Many parameters are now affecting the final result and some kind of programmable hardware is required to control the results. It is still possible to get nice results with “normal plumbing” things but, well, it may take a lot of time. And maybe quite frustrating.
In these pictures I used green food coloring in the water that was dropped.

The above picture shows the re-bounce of the the first drop and the arrival of the second drop. One rather amazing thing to note is that the initial drop is still quite intact. Notice the color difference between the first drop (the one behind) and the column? In this picture the alignment of the two drop were not perfect.

In this picture the alignment was better (with all windows closed!) and you can see how the two drops start to collide.
Mixing different liquids will make the collision stand out even more. In the following pictures I used milk as the liquid surface. I recommend whole milk as it has higher surface tension.

Similar setup but with colored water drop colliding with milk. Each time you prepare and start fine tune your setup it is important to decide what you want to achieve and with what materials. Since the behavior of for instance water and whole milk is so different all timing will have to be redone. The same is true if you, late in the work process, decide that you want smaller drops and add some rinse aid. After this the drop size will change and all timing. Still, it is great fun and I encourage you to try and experiment!

Once I had everything setup as I wanted and was experimenting with different drop sizes and intervals I realized that it was possible to sequence the initial stepping. If we consider the time from start to exposure of the frame as an equation of the form:

TimeToExposure = OpenTime0 + Delay0 + OpenTime1 + Delay1 where

  •  OpenTime0 is the amount of time the valve is open to release liquid for 1st drop (this determines the size of the drop).
  • Delay0 is the amount we wait until the valve is opened for the second drop
  • OpenTime1 is the time the valve is open for the second drop
  • Delay1 is the time we wait until the picture is taken

Then altering Delay1 while keeping the other parameters unchanged will yield pictures where things will progress as though they were taken very fast during one single event. Of course there will be variations and many parameters will come into play. Make sure there is as little movement of air as possible (these drops are very light and will be moved by even small air flows. Other aspects are the drip device you use and whether there is randomness in the flow and release. Anyhow, once I had this working I realized it was possible to make a “fake high speed camera movie” of the collision of two water drops. And here is the result:

One tell-tale here of the fact that this is not a high-speed movie is the fact that I use food coloring for the drop. Since the movie consists of close to 300 picture – that means 600 drops – the color of the milk slowly turns green…Yes, I could have changed the milk every frame but I’m lazy Smile. Still, it’s kind of nice to have reproducible results that your can alter to become the composition of your choice!

Drop Photography – The single drop

Capturing fast events that are otherwise missed by the naked eye is fascinating. Things that we see everyday and believe to know how they happen are sometimes much more complex. With beautiful, otherwise invisible, in-between states.

One such example is the life of water drop as it hits a surface. As the drop hits the surface a corona is formed around the center. This can be done with both a hard surface as well as with a liquid surface to land on. As the event we want to capture is very quick it is important to either have very good lightning and fast shutter speed or use a flash to control the exposure time. See previous posts on High Speed Photography.


Depending on the speed of the drop, the surface tension of the fluid it lands in and several other parameters there may also be a re-bounce. By altering the mixture of the the liquid that is dropped and the liquid that it lands in it is possible to achieve very different re-bounces.

The time-snail

Food coloring can be used to give both the drop and/or the the liquid to land in different appearances. To control the surface tension I use dishwasher rinse aid. Corn starch can also be used to increase the surface tension (rinse aid reduces the surface tension). Another variable to use is different colored screen to get alternate colors.

Where have you been?

Then with varying drop size and timing it becomes possible to shape the column formation to achieve different shapes and expressions.

Singing for the stars