Oil and Water Pictures

Oil and water pictures can look pretty amazing and are fairly easy to take. To do so, you’ll need a way to trigger off-camera flash, a macro lens (or other way to take close-ups, such as a lens with an extension tube), something with a colorful pattern, a tripod (recommended), a glass dish or container with a flat bottom surface, oil (vegetable or olive oil work) and water. Once you’ve collected all this, here are a few simple steps for how to take these images:

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Close-up of bubbles made from oil and water

1. Use a glass plate or baking dish with a flat bottom surface. Put just enough water in the dish to cover the bottom of it, perhaps around 1/4 of an inch at most. 

2. Now comes the tricky part. You’ll want to get the dish suspended at least a foot or so off of the ground or some other surface. The dish should be suspended flat and there should be nothing in the center of the dish. In other words, you will need to be able to look through the dish from the top and see the floor or surface below through the dish. I used a square baking dish and balanced two opposite sides of it on chairs so that the entire middle area of the dish was suspended. I only dumped the water over once, which isn’t bad.

3. After you get the dish stable, you will want something colorful underneath it. I took some construction paper of various colors and cut out little circles and set them on the floor about a foot or two below the suspended baking dish. You can also use a colorful shirt, scarf, CD cover, or anything you want with good colors and an interesting pattern.

4. Set your camera with a macro lens up on a tripod (preferred) above the dish pointed straight down through the water.

5. Set up your off-camera flash so that it points towards whatever colorful thing you have below the dish. In my case, I set the flash on the floor on a very small stand pointed down towards the construction paper. The idea is to light up the colorful object. 

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Pink and green oil and water close-up

6. Set your camera to manual. Because this is a macro shot and the bubbles have shape to them, you will want some depth of field. Something in the range of f11-f16 should work fine. As for the speed, you will want it slower than your camera’s maximum flash sync speed. 

7. It probably makes sense to set your flash to manual. Using your camera and flash triggering device, take some test shots and make adjustments to the flash power until you get the level of brightness you’d like.

8. Now, add just a little of the cooking oil and you should get some bubbles floating around. You can move them around as you like.

9. Take a lot of shots, while checking the results in the monitor. Move the bubbles around and recompose. In my opinion, you are best off shooting a pretty small section so that just a few larger bubbles are in your composition, such as with the above examples.

10. In Photoshop, you may want to clone out a few bubbles in post-processing if it helps simplify and improve the image.

Have fun!

Zooming During the Exposure for Colorful Abstracts

One easy technique to get cool abstract color shots is to zoom in (or out) while the shutter is open. Here’s a few hints on how to take these:

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Zoom shot of foliage at Groton State Park in Vermont

– You’ll need to use a relatively slow shutter speed. For the above shot, I used a 1/2 second shutter speed at f22. You’ll want to experiment a bit, but 1/2 second is a good starting point.
– You still need to focus on the subject. In the shot above, the trees are in focus which gives a nice contrast between sharp and blurry instead of everything being out of focus.
– Make sure you fill the frame with the colorful subject. For example, don’t include the bright sky either at the starting or ending point of the zoom.

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Zoom shot of Venice Carnival models in red, black and white

– Complementary colors work well in these shots.
– I like to use a tripod for these due to the long exposure times and to keep the camera steady. Of course, you can also try handheld which will give you a slightly different effect.
– I like to use the self-timer at 2 seconds so I can anticipate the shutter opening. I start zooming a bit just before the shutter opens.

How to Take Silhouette Pictures

If you found this article through a search on Google, then congratulations because it means you know how to spell “silhouette”.

I like taking silhouette shots. When they work, they can be beautiful. They’re easy to shoot and process. But I’ve seen a lot of bad ones too. Here are a few quick tips on silhouette photography.

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Dancer exercising at sunrise on Lake Michigan

First, the subject must have an interesting graphic design. This picture of the dancer works well because the model (a.k.a. my wife) knows how to pose. The interesting pose is what makes the shot. I’ve seen a lot of trees used as silhouettes. In most cases, this doesn’t work because trees don’t usually have interesting shapes. What you should look for is a simple, uncluttered subject with a shape that is compelling all on its own.

Secondly, on the metering, I’ve found that the camera meter will usually get pretty close on creating silhouettes. The lit background tends to turn your foreground subject dark. You can always adjust slightly using exposure compensation or in post-processing. The most important thing is to avoid blown highlights in the background, so be careful not to overexpose when shooting.


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Silhouette of woman wearing a hat and holding a rose against a red background

Third, pay close attention to the details of the design. For example, the profile of the lady with the rose is an interesting image. However, the design could have been slightly improved if I had tucked her hair in back underneath the hat (or cloned it out). This would have simplified the image somewhat.

Lastly, fix problem areas. For example, sometimes clothing tends to look a bit baggy on silhouettes. In cases like this, you may want to use Photoshop’s “liquefy” tool (or another method) to make minor adjustments to the shape of the clothes.