Water Droplet Photography

I’ve been dabbling with Water droplet photography for a while now so this information is based purely on what I’ve discovered works for me. It also assumes you are using a dSLR with free standing flashguns.

It is possible to take reasonable images using cameras with in-built flashguns but they are very restrictive and, with very few exceptions, will only produce photographs of average quality.

Please don’t blame me for this limitation, it is just a fact of life 🙂

The current setup for most of my water droplet images is shown below. Details of the setup can been on the notes added to this Flickr Image

There are several ways of shooting water droplets but they generally fall into three methods:

1. In a totally dark room using the ‘bulb’ setting on the camera. The flash guns are then fired independently from the camera when the droplet is hopefully in the right place.


2. In a room with subdued lighting you can trigger the camera which fires the flashguns. The camera shutter should be set to the fastest speed that it will still synchronise to the flash guns, this is typically 1/200 – 1/250 second. I tend to use this method unless I am shooting extremely high speed images where the mechanical delays in the camera would mean missing the photograph.


3. Use a fast shutter speed with the lens aperture wide open and the iso rating cranked up. With a few exceptions photographs taken this way will be crap. Add some some very high powered lamps, say 500w or more, and reasonable images can be achieved and you will stay warm on a cold winters evening.

It is important to understand that in methods 1 and 2 it is NOT the camera shutter speed that is freezing the droplet movement it is the flash duration that does the work. In a completely dark room the shutter could be left open for minutes and a frozen image will still be taken if you are using flash.

The rest of this tutorial goes through the method shown in 2 above but the information applies to most techniques.


The Canon 5D MkII, 7D or 40D cameras which I use are always tripod mounted to give me the maximum sharpness. To avoid cropping the image I also use a 100mm or 150mm macro lens which is focussed manually.

The camera should be set to use the ‘mirror lockup’, if possible, for two reasons:

a. The mechanical delay of the mirror flipping up and then shutter firing is typically around 100 milliseconds so I lock the mirror up before each shot to reduce the delay down to around 40-50 milliseconds. Some, but not all, dSLR cameras have this feature.

b. Using mirror lockup removes almost all of the internal camera vibration and maximises the image sharpness, so use it if you can. Mirror lockup is recommended for a lot of photography styles including landscape/waterscape and nature photography.

I also use a cable release either manually or electronically fired. Used manually you are relying on practise and luck to get the timing right, using electronics to trigger the camera removes a lot of the uncertainities.

The camera is in manual exposure mode typically 1/4 second at f16-22 iso 100. I could stop the lens down further to increase the DoF BUT the images with the aperture fully closed to f32 are softer than at f16-22 due to diffraction limitations of the lens. This is common to all lens and using the smallest aperture for photography to get the maximum depth of field is not normally recommended.

On the camera hotshoe is a wireless transmitter that triggers the flashguns I use, normally Canon 580Ex II guns and a 550Ex gun. You can use a wired flash system if you like, I use wireless to reduce the number of cables running around but for very high speed work I will use wired flashguns to remove the delays in the wirless system. (*see final note)

The flash guns are set to manual control and typically run at 1/64-1/128 of full power to minimise the flash duration. If the flash guns are set to use full power the duration of the flash is around 1 millisecond (1/1000 second) this long flash duration will cause motion blur and degrade the final image, this is one reason why in-built flashes are a poor choice. Set to 1/128 of full power the 580Ex flashgun produces a flash that is only 1/30,000 of a second duration, that’s 30 times shorter than the gun on full power! Please check out this page to see the effects of flash power and motion blur

To use the flash guns on 1/128 power AND still be able to take the photograph at f16 iso 100 the guns need to be very very close to the droplet or you need to use a lot of flash guns. My guns are covered in clingfilm to keep them dry because they are only 100-150mm away from the splash. Remember the guns have to be very close or you will end up using a wide aperture (small DoF) or a very large iso setting (more noise).

I use small lumiquest softboxes or stofen diffusers on the flash guns to soften the shadows they produce or if I want dramatic lighting some simple rolled up tubes of paper to make the flash very directional.

Other Equipment

A small eye dropper or drinking straw can be used to produce the droplets, you can even use electronically timed solenoid valves to improve your success rate. I use the Shako PU220AR 24v and 12v dc solenoid valves supplied by https://www.solenoid-valves.com

Food colouring is a simple way to dye the water to produce colourful photographs.

Coloured card or acrylic for background colour

Electronic timing and trigger systems are available that remove a lot of the difficulties of getting good water droplet images. I use infrared trigger beams that control the water solenoid valves and the camera and flash guns. Good timing systems, imo, are available from B Mumford – The Mumford Time Machine and Cognisys – StopShot. My current system is using three Stopshot modules.

The electronic control I have allows me to get the timing very repeatable once I find a droplet shape I like. Once I have the timing set correctly I can concentrate on the lighting arrangement and keep repeating the shot until I’m happy with the result.

Plenty of patience and imagination.

I’m getting a hit rate of about 80% so if I take about 50 images, 40 of them will be reasonable photographs, 1 or 2 of them I will keep.

A Few Notes

The flash duration is around 1/20,000-1/30,000 of a second, if you dial the power down, and it is this flash duration that freezes the movement of the droplet NOT the shutter speed of the camera.

The ambient light of the room can cause motion blur on the droplets so subdued lighting or no lighting is recommended.

A low iso setting is also used to minimise noise and to reduce the effects of the ambient light.

A small aperture of f16-f22 will give you a reasonable depth of field.

Rather than colour the water you are dropping into use colourful backgrounds and photograph the colourful reflection of the background.

This type of photography can be achieved using normal high powered studio lights but it does need to be very high powered as you are reliant on the camera shutter speed to freeze the droplet movement rather than the flash duration.

If you have any questions/thoughts just shout and I’ll try my best to answer them.

* since purchasing the Cognisys stopshot system I am controlling the camera and flashguns separately and currently use a long shutter speed of 1 second and use the Stopshot module to synchronise the flashguns to the opening of the shutter

176 Responses to Water Droplet Photography

  1. techcoze says:

    I have been trying to get thinner and longer drop re-bound drop trail. No matter what, I am not getting sufficient length of drop trail. I mix Xanthan gum in drop water and dish washer liquid in tray water. Can you please let me know tips to have longer drop trails?

    • photosbykev says:

      I use Rinse aid in the drop solution to ‘Thin’ the water. Xanthan and dish washer liquid will thicken them

      • techcoze says:

        Need clarification – Rinse aid should be added in solenoid valve drop water or in bottom tray water? I assume bottom tray water since we need to reduce the surface tension of tray water, and not of the drop. Please correct me if I am wrong

        • photosbykev says:

          I’ve always just put it into the solenoid valve drop water using the logic that the ‘thicker’ water in the tray would force the droplet upwards more

  2. Brian says:

    I am constructing a water drop collision rig using three valves & syphons so I can use 3 different coloured liquids.

    The main problem is that when I initially fill the syphons, I get air locks in the tubes between the syphons and the valves. The tubes are flexible plastic, 6mm internal diameter and about 300mm long. There are no sharp bends in the tubes.
    Opening the valves allows water through but the air remains in the tubes. This reduces the head pressure which means the position of the outer two valves cannot be adjusted to get coincident drops at the tray. Once the air is removed, there is sufficient pressure to allow the drops from the angled outer valves to arrive at a common collision point.

    The only way I have found to clear the air lock is to force water back through the valve using a syringe after the syphons are initially filled. This is a bit messy and inconvenient.
    Has anyone else found this issue? Is there a better solution such as a bleed valve or a vertical breather tube?

    • Mike says:

      Hi Brian,
      When I initially fill the siphons, I get air locks in the tubes between the siphons and the valves also. The way I remove the air from the tubes is to first fill the siphons half way. Then, I squeeze and release the tubes at the half waypoint. You should see air bubbles entering the siphons from the bottom. When you release the tube, you should see liquid entering the tubes from the siphon. Repeat this method until all the air is successfully removed from the tubes. This method works every time and without fail for me. Hope this helps. Mike

    • techcoze says:

      To remove air bubbles from inlet tube, I also keep on tapping on pipe till bubbles reach to the top of the pipe and bottom of the bottle. After this few more taps make air go in to bottle. This works for my setup. Maybe this helps you

  3. Jan R says:

    Hi Martin
    great site, full of useful information, for newbies and experts alike.
    I am a newbie and recently started building a Bluetooth setup based on your drawings and info. I have the program up and running, to the stage where i can energise the solenoid with time delays for start and drop size. My valve is a Shako pu220ar 1/8″ and a 1/8″ barbed nozzle.
    My problem is inconsistent drop sizes, and also a drop forming on end of the nozzle after the valve as dropped and closed, again adding to inconsistent drop size.
    Any advice please, before i move on to the next stage?
    all the best
    Jan R

    • photosbykev says:

      Have you got a reasonable and constant head of water over the top of the valve? maybe 600mm

      • Jan R says:

        happy new year.
        at the moment i have only 300 mm head above valve center. I am using a homemade mariotte tube, to give me constant pressure.
        Is 300 mm big enough head?

        • photosbykev says:

          It should be, the valve needs some pressure above it to function correctly.

          • Jan R says:

            OK thanks, i will extend the frame and increase the head to 600 mm and see if it makes any difference to my problem. I did clean the nozzle by passing a piece of string through the hole with some carborundum paste on it, it seemed to make a small difference.

  4. Colin Fursman says:

    Is there here help for someone like me I am using a Sony A77ii camera and would like a detailed instruction the shutter is electronic no mirror lockup can I do this kind of photography with this camera!!

  5. Saurabh says:

    Hi. I am a beginner in water drop photography. I have a canon 50mm f 2.5 macro (actually a close up lens) and only one speedlite 550ex . Can I manage to make some good images with only one off camera flash? Where do I put one flash? near drop or in background?

    • photosbykev says:

      Hi, to get a colourful image ideally you have one or more guns pointing at the coloured plastic you want to capture as a reflection in the water and then one or two guns aimed at the droplet. You need to use the 550 gun in manual mode and around 1/64 of full power and position it within a couple of inches of the droplet so you can use f11/f16 aperture (to get the depth of field) and at a low iso to keep the noise down. With one gun you should concentrate on just the droplet and maybe add a reflection (crumpled aluminium foil opened out again is good) on the other side of the droplet to bounce some light back into the droplet to reduce the shadows one gun normally produces.


  6. Thanks for all the great advice. Please comment on positioning of camera relative to water reservoir to avoid having back of tank in photo. Also, what camera shutter lag and flash delay settings are you using? Thanks for the help.

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  10. Hi there. I have a few Questions regarding the water drop starter kit from Cognysis and I hope you can help.

    I would like to use 2 flashes, maybe more in the future. The setup I have planned will look like this: 2x Yongnuo YN-568EX II flash units with YN-622C as receivers and YN-622C-TX as trigger on the hotshoe of my camera (EOS 7D).

    The thing I am unsure about is how to connect this setup to StopShot. Would it work if I connect the YN-622-TX (the trigger) with StopShot or would I have to buy the hotshoe adapter from Cognysis for my flashes in order to connect them to StopShot? And does the camera need to be connected to StopShot aswell?

    I would be very grateful for any help anyone can provide. 🙂

    • photosbykev says:


      both the camera and the flashes should be connected to the stopshot, this allows you to control the timing independently which is important. Personally I don’t like using wireless triggers, they will work but there will be very small timing variations from shot to shot. For the best accuracy and shot to shot consistency I would hard wire the flashguns to the stopshot


  11. Julian says:

    Kev what height do you have from the bottom of the solenoid to the top of the surface water?

  12. Katie says:

    Fantastic resource. Thanks for sharing. I have just got my own Splash Art system and have produced some cool results – your page has given me some great ideas to improve my images and get more creative!

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  16. John says:

    I’ve taken high speed pictures with my Point and Shoot camera (with high specifications).
    Is it possible to edit and make them like the ones above ?

    • photosbykev says:

      Very unlikely I’m afraid, water droplet photography is only really possible using the very short duration of flashguns. Even very fast shutter speeds normally give poor results.

      Kev Lewis

  17. Stephen Charette says:

    Help! I have currently bought a stop shot water drip kit by cognisys, could you help me out with all the setting that you have on the cognisys module? I also have purchased xanthan gum to help with the velocity.

    • photosbykev says:

      Hi, I use my own solenoid valves but the process will be similar. You need to use a single droplet first and make sure only one droplet comes out per pulse, then adjust the camera trigger time until you see the single droplet just touch the surface of the water. It takes approx 90-100mS for the droplet to enter the water and rebound up into a column so add that to the camera Trigger time and you will see the water column. The TOff timing between the 1st and 2nd droplet will be 90-100mS as well so the 2nd droplet hit the top of the column.


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  19. Donna says:

    Thanks so much for the great images of water drops and all the info. I am just getting my feet wet-lol–with water drop imaging. trying to setup the Cognisys stopshot unit. I have my Nikon SB 900 flash set up as master and sb900 is wired to Cognisys output box and other flash SB800 set up as remote wirelessly. I can’t get SB800 to fire. Can you not use wireless flash setup if signal is coming from Cognisys board?

    • photosbykev says:

      In a master/slave setup I don’t see why the 900 shouldn’t trigger the 800. Have you tried shorted the plug that goes into the 900 flash? this will replicate the output from the Cognisys.

      You can shoot wireless BUT there is a natural timing lag from the 900 to the 800 which you need to account for and even if the guns are identical there will be minor timing errors between guns causing a double image. Shooting wired eliminates all the timing errors.

  20. John says:

    I have a SplashArt Kit MKII which lets me control the size of the first drop, size of second drop, time between drops and control to adjust the camera delay. I’m shooting a D600 and D700 with a SB-900 and SB-800. I can seem to get all kinds of water collisions but they all seems to be lack luster, I can’t seem to get the dome style shot like the first photo of yours. Is there something I need to add to the water or am I missing something all together. Nozzle tip to water is about 45cm.

    • photosbykev says:

      How deep is the water? I would typically use a depth of about 3cm. Also water temperature has an effect, the colder the water the more viscous it is, adding something like Rinse aid reduces the surface tension letting the water stretch more to produce skirts.


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  26. Martin says:

    Hi Kev,

    Lots of very useful information on set up. You have not mentioned what the drip tray is. size, colour and what it is made of. Any information on this? I have just started and I am using a black plastic try but my images are all very dark, Maybe I need more light. Love the reflections on some of your shots


    • photosbykev says:

      Hi Martin, I generally use deep baking trays either A4 or A3 in size which I spray matt black before using. I also use gloss coloured perspex sheets to act as the main reflectors and my flashguns are Canon 580Ex II normally set at 1/32 of full power positioned very close (3-4″) to the droplet or the background so the water is ‘coloured’ by the reflection of the coloured background.

  27. Philip Heald says:

    Very impressive imaged Kev.
    I have been completely inspired by the HSP work you have done. I have spent a couple of months (evenings / w/ends ) building a setup that I hope will capture my own images (much to the bewilderment of my wife!). The fantastic description of your methods here and the impressively detailed work done by work done by Wayne Fulton at scantips .com
    has got me this far.
    Im using a reasonable solenoid that operates in the region of 15-20 ms, controlled by an arduino that I have written some quite extensive code for, I can control up to 4 drips, there size and delay between them relative to the first drip, so in effect I can move the 2nd, 3rd and 4th drips up and down, change their sizes independently of each other (also written a VB app to control the trips. Easier than using a serial comms window!) The trigger is a kit I got from America, This all works quite well.

    I have a problem with the Cleanness of my drops, I find they tend to fragment causing more of a shower! Currently using a 1/8″ ID nozzle and about 10″ head. Thee other big problem I have is how to keep the drip formations together. I can get a simple 2 or 3 drip collision add day, but they seem very messy with water. Id like to keep them … simpler, rather like the results I get with milk.

    Id be Very grateful if you could give me some advice !

    Great to see this thread still going after so long! Thanks again for your fantastic contribution to us inspiring Drip Photographers !


  28. Mal says:

    Hello Kev,

    We met at Lucksall, and I said that I would take a look at your site. You may, or may not, recall me saying that I didn’t know whether to be inspired by photography of this quality, or whether to smash up all my equipment and give up. Well, I am just getting my hammer out.

    Thank you for helping me with this dilemma.


  29. Mawele says:

    Thanks for all the tips. I notice you have 2 water valves side by and yet your water drops show one hitting on top of the other, how do you do this?

  30. Bob says:

    one last question how does the mariotte siphon work

    And I have to thank you for all your time to respond to my questions it makes a change for someone to take the time
    many thanks and good look with your photography
    Kind regards Bob

  31. Bob says:

    Have been looking at the set up of the stopshot
    and I think a second unit may be of help
    if I need to trigger camera then 2 water valves one after the other then the flash,s
    thats 4 trigger’s
    how does the interface cable that you had made for your 3 units connect to the units
    ie does it just plug in
    Kind Regards Bob

    • photosbykev says:

      Hi Bob,

      the interface cable takes the output from a Trigger on unit #1 and sends it as a Trigger input on the second and third units which effectively gives me 6 outputs to play with. It isn’t a straight piece of cable there is something in the line which Cognisys fitted for me. What it is I don’t know


  32. Bob says:

    stopshot arrived today very impressed
    Kev do you know what extra duty you pay from the usa is it just 20% vat or is there any other duty to pay
    Cognisys EU site does not list all the items that they sell
    regards Bob

  33. Bob says:


    which soft box do you use they have some on the eos mag. site don’t know which one to get
    also what is the lifting unit under your water tray and is it available in the uk
    My stopshot system is on the way from Cognisys in the nertherlands should arrive tues
    so with all your help hope to start and get some pics Thanks
    I have a canon 180 macro will I get better pics with a 100 macro

    • photosbykev says:

      The small adjustable table under the tray was part of an optical table I played with, it’s like a small scissor jack. The softboxes vary from stofen diffusers to the larger lumiquest units. You will get similar results from the 180mm and 100mm but you will be able to put the lens further away from the droplets.


  34. Martin Sutcliffe says:

    Kev, some great shots and advise. I’ve been working on similar (like many people!) for a few months using a camera axe. I use similar flash set up to your own but have trouble with unwanted reflections of the flash. I have also combined with backlit through frosted acrylic sheet but also get reflections on the “stem” of the water bounce back. Any ideas how to minimize this?

    • photosbykev says:

      You just have to play with the angles I’m afraid. You might try using some stiff pieces of dark card to shade the flash guns from hitting different areas or snoots fitted to the gun heads (just rolled tubes of card fixed to the head)


  35. Bob says:


    is it possible for you to let me have the size of your water drop rig
    ie hight x width x length as on the web pic

    kind regards Bob
    PS thank you for all the advice on your site

    • photosbykev says:

      Hi Bob I have the nozzles about 600mm above the water and the syphon about another 600mm above the nozzle. The width and depth of the rig could be anything but mine is around 400mm square


  36. Bob says:

    Just another question should I get the laser or IR sensors for outside use ie birds, moths and the like

  37. Bob says:

    Hi Kev
    How do you use 3 units for water drop pics
    and what do I need to fire 2 canon 580 flash units for water drop pics using a canon mk4 I just ordered the stopshot unit

    many thanks Bob

    • photosbykev says:

      Hi Bob,

      Cognisys made up a trigger lead to interconnect the three Stopshot units. I haven’t really had the need yet to use three unitsbut the option is there if I want it 🙂 To use the 580 guns I would hard wire them together and use the stopshot to control them to give you the shortest response time. If you use the wireless option you will have problems with the coded preflashes registering on your images. I use the laser for indoor water droplets, the IR is probably better for the external stuff.


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  39. curious_g says:

    I have been looking at this page and the works of photographers such as martin waugh. i really would love to do this but i only have a canon 400d, free standing flash gun and enthusiasm, do you think it is still possible?


    • photosbykev says:

      Yes 🙂 The free standing gun should help get the flashgun close to the subject so you can turn down the flash power to reduce the flash duration. Dive right in and play.

  40. Bill says:

    Hi Kev, great set of water drops and a rally helpful tutorial thanks.
    I have been trying some shots using a camera axe and through a Shako PU220AR 12v dc solenoid. The problem I am having is multiple droplets. I am unable to get a single droplet regardless of settings. Maybe a faulty valve? I just wondered if you had experienced a similar problem.
    thanks in advance Bill

    • photosbykev says:

      With head of water about 600mm over the valve a 9ms pulse gave me one droplet.

    • Dear Biil: As Mr. Kev rightly explained, varying the SOV opening time you should be able to control the no of droplets or the even the drop size. It also depends on the port size of the SOV. with 2 mm to 2.5 mm port size 6 to 13 ms pulse you should be able to control the drop. I use a Shako SOV 24VDC 2.3mm port size valve. Water head is baout 120mm. I believe, it would be difficult to control the drop ( both in size and numbers) if nozzle and port sizes are above 2.5 mm. You may wish to look at my set up at my website http://www.wingsofpassion.org.

  41. Juls says:

    How do you hook up 3 stop shot module together?!

  42. Dave says:

    Kevin: How far behind the water drop set up do you place anything to be reflected? I’d like to have some pictures of family and different objects reflected in the drops but am having trouble in the set up. Also am a little confused in where exactly to put the flashes…I have two 580exii
    Thanks in advance for your assistance. Dave

    • photosbykev says:

      I normally use something like a 12″ long baking tray with the image to be reflected propped up behind the tray. One flash aimed at the image from 6″ away and the other by the side of the tray 6″ away from the droplet. Depending on the position and angle of the camera you need to establish the ‘hotspot’ of the image flashgun so it is well illuminated.

  43. I have been learning from the web many aspects of water drop photography. I have been experimenting on this for quite some time now and being an engineer myself went on to develop a professional kit. Details and some photographs of the water drop that I have taken using the kit is posted in my website http://www.wingsofpassion.org. I am also experimenting on smoke art as well.
    U. Moharana

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  47. Juan Pablo says:

    how much water on the water try and how much altitude on the valve to obtain long and thin water columns?


    • photosbykev says:

      I was using about 2cm of water and about 60-70cm drop BUT the biggest increase in height was gained by putting one or two drops of RinseAid into the water and I do mean one or two. If you add a lot more you will end up with bubbles lol.

      • Juan Pablo says:

        Thanks a lot Kev,
        what if I use dish washer machine rinse? that do not produce bubbles, also the water try that I am using is about 1meter long x 45 cm wide

        should one or tow drops of rinse aid be enough?

        thanks a lot for your help.

        • photosbykev says:

          Anything that reduces surface tension will produce ‘stringy’ droplets. I would certainly start with only a few droplets of rinseaid in the water and see what happens. It will be easier to add more rather than try to remove some if you add too much 🙂

      • Luis Bornancini says:

        Hi Kev

        I am very close to buff you want to y the cognisys Stopshot Water drop kit. Have you tried to use double water valve in order to get a collision of two different drop color? To do this you need to have 2 stopshot controller or not necessary?

        Thanks for your help.


        • photosbykev says:

          Hi Luis, I use upto 3 stopshot controllers. The issue of using a double valve system is relatively straight forward after you sort out any timing differences between the valve mechanics. Dropping differing coloured droplets onto each other is not easy as the alignment of the valves is very difficult with one valve being directly above the other so the higher droplet hits the lower nozzle. It’s a problem I play with from time to time.

  48. Dan says:

    Hi Kev

    I’ve visited your website on numerous occasions and it’s inspired me to build my own setup as I don’t have the funds for a stopshot.
    Anyway I’ve got it up and running, and it all seems to be working fine but I was just wondering what sort of minimum delay that you’re achieving between drops. I’m using a Shako PU220AR and I can get a pulse time of 10ms no problem but I have to wait 32ms before activate the solenoid again??



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  50. Huub Hierck says:

    Kev great shots, I use a canon eos1ds with the 100mm macro and the stopshot and 2 x 580exii and 1x 430ex flash for the droplets The flashes are triggered thru a multimax and three flextt5 from pocketwizard. At the moment I get only a very few good ones, but I see practice makes the master, I love your picutes and your tutorials. As soon as my droplets are precentable I will put them on picasa and sent you a link. Thx and greetings from Almere, Holland

  51. YuHaining says:

    Hi Kev,

    how did you do the bubble pictures? Do you use a straw and rinse aid to make the bubbles in the tray?

  52. PATTI says:

    Do you sell your photos/posters?

  53. wdc623 says:

    Kev: Great photos. Am wondering how to set up the flashes (I have 2 580ex ii) to get reflective images from the background to show within the water drops with a different color for the surface of the water. I know I’m going to have to have one flash pointed directly onto the upside down background to get the reflections but where does the other flash go and do I need to use colored water? Thanks in advance for your input. Again, I really appreciate your willingness to share your work and your thoughts. Regards, Dave

    • photosbykev says:

      You will need one flash very close to the water droplet with maybe a fill reflector opposite that flash. I tend to use coloured gel filters over the flash heads or food colouring to get the colours I want. Ideally both guns should be set at the same power setting but you will probably find you need to increase the power to the background flash unless you can get it very close to the background and adjust the setup so that the water droplet is in the hot spot of the reflected flash.

      • wdc623 says:

        Kev: Thanks for your quick response….it is appreciated. My ultimate goal with this is to create images like your smiley faces example except with less dof and a blurred background. Thanks again for your input! Regards, Dave

  54. Vishrut Frank says:

    Hi Kev,

    Thanks for posting such good work. I’ve question about solenoid valve. I would like to use micro controller and control flow of water by programming but I’m not sure how does this Solenoid Valve work. I really appreciate your feedback. Can you please explain me what kind of connection I have to do with this Solenoid valve? Thanks for your support.

    • photosbykev says:

      The solenoid is powered with DC voltage and is simply an ON/OFF valve so you can’t control the flow rate only the duration the solenoid valve is open or closed.

      • Vishrut Frank says:

        Thank you very much for your feedback. What kind of Solenoid valve did you use? On some other website, I read about Shako Solenoid valve. Do you have any idea about it? Any suggestion which valve should I use? And how do I connect it to breadboard – Controller? Do you have any circuit diagram?

        Furthermore, I check IR sensor on congnisys website those are very expensive. The cheapest I found is Miniature Sensor, which is still expensive. Do you recommend any thing to find my trigger point since the first water drop? If I use Miniature how do I connect to breadboard/microcontroller?

        Again I really appreciate your feedback..

        • photosbykev says:

          The guy that posted the info on the Shako valve was given the source by me 🙂 I use the 12v dc version which I find ideal for my setup. All of my water droplet photography is done using the Cognisys stopshot system which directly control the solenoid timing.

          • Vishrut Frank says:

            Thanks again. So you recommend Shako valve. You also mentioned that you use Congnisys system. Well, I have following queries. I again appreciate your feedback.

            1. Congnisys is extremely expensive, so is it worth to invest in it? As you mentioned in your previous message, you are using it. So I m sure it might be excellent. what is your opinion, should I buy Congnisys system or build by my own?

            2. I am looking for alternative to StopShot IR. Do you suggest something about it?

            Again, I’m really thankful to you for your kind support.

            Vishrut Frank

          • photosbykev says:

            I’ve got three of the Stopshot controllers so yes I think they are worth it. It is possible to build a similar device using something like an Arduino microboard with a simple high speed IR diode trigger, I also use these for simple programming. There are plenty of circuits available on-line to give you the details.

          • Lee says:

            I am trying to find the 12vdc Shako valve with no luck. Could you proved the model # you are using.

          • photosbykev says:

            I’m currently using this valve which is the 24vDC 1/4″ BSP valve shown here http://www.solenoid-valves.com . The Shako PU220AR 12v dc solenoid version should work just as well.

  55. Don says:

    Hey Kev, Great work, I’ve been messing around with some water droplets as something to do…lol. I am using my Canon 50D and my only macro lens I own is a Canon 180mm I also am trying to use my Canon Macro twin Ring light MT-24EX..The photos are Ok…Just cant get the timing down. Or should I go with off the shoe Flash units??

    • photosbykev says:

      Personally I use the 580ExII guns because I can dial the power down to 1/64 or 1/128 of full power which significantly shortens the flash duration. I think the MT-24Ex also has reduced power settings which is the only way to reduce the flash speed. Off camera flashguns will work better as you can play with the positioning and put them very close to the subject

  56. Cuba says:

    I went to the Mumford Time Machine web site. The list of products they offer is quite substantial. Could you please specify exactly what I need to get from them? I do not want to buy things that I do not need. By the way, I have a NIKON 7000.

    • photosbykev says:

      I would recommend you email Bryan Mumford directly and discuss you want to achieve. He would be more than happy to provide you with accurate information on his products and specifications.

  57. Gerard says:

    Oke, no respons but i have taken action and put the camara on the Stopshot. It works perfect.
    Because i have look ad the pictures ad Flikr.
    Only whit water the picture ar not as i see them at your Flikr site. Is this because you make the most whit milk???

    • photosbykev says:

      I normally shoot with a shutter speed around a second in a darkened room. The white water droplets are normally just diluted milk or white poster paint in water

  58. Gerard says:

    Oke, i have the Stopshot. Today i have put the beam and the flashes on the Stopshot.
    Make some 1 drops pictures and also 2 drops pictures.
    Now i whant to put the Canon 7D on the Stopshot. Flashes trigger 2 goes to trigger 3, and the Canon goes to trigger 2.
    What the settings onder trigger 2 mast go to trigger 3????? And what is the setting for trigger 3????
    Camera on Bulb??? or M.

  59. wee jockey says:

    Hello Kev. I have been looking at your water drops and I must say they are amazing.My family got together and bought me a stop shop outfit for christmas and I get a nice drop now and again, but your worst one’s will be far better than my best but someday I hope to be half as good as you are.
    Can I beg you to help me as I cannot get a drop on drop, to bring drop on drop do you raise the pulse and toff togehter.

    Please Oblige wee jockey

    • photosbykev says:

      You need to have a delay between the droplets of about 60-100ms. This allows the first droplet to hit the water and then start to bounce upwards in a column to meet the second droplet coming down.

    • wee jockey says:

      I am really sorry I have taken so long in replying, but the night I read your advice I was suddenly
      carted of to hospital with a heart attack and I am just getting back on my feet. I took your advice
      and got me out of a muddle.
      again many Thanks

      wee jockey

  60. Jake says:

    Great shots. I just got a Time Machine and have not gotten any shots worth posting. One problem I am having is the flash will work for a while then quit firing. I am using a Canon 50D, 580 and a Sigma 610. (the flash in ready mode) Also I get a lot a ghost image on the second drop as it falls maybe 2 or 3 ghost like images above the “main” drop.
    Any ideas

    • photosbykev says:

      It’s very likely that the two flashguns are firing out of of sync which is why I use two 580ExII flashguns wired together to avoid the double images. I was shooting with the 580ExII guns set up as slave units and triggered wirelessly, this caused a lot of ghosts because of a timing difference.

  61. Gerard says:

    I am going to bye the set from Stop Shot for to get waterdrops. Can i put a secent valve to get 2 drops at the Stop Shot input.

    • photosbykev says:

      You will need to check the maximum rating of the stopshot output jack. Also you should note that you will get a different timing response between two valves even if they are the same model. This means it’s likely that the droplets and collisions will be very different.

  62. stableflame says:

    Hi, me again

    Am enjoying the challenges of water drop photography but never envisaged the amount of variables to play around with so this may be a big ask…………

    1) do you have a set dropper to water height, if so, what is it?
    2) do you have a particular water depth you favour, if so, what is it?

    Thanks in advance


  63. stableflame says:

    Brilliant pictures, must take some patience.

    How did you achieve the bubble shot?

    I,ve just bought the CameraAxe unit and dropper and am having great fun with it.

    Great inspiration

  64. me says:

    how the heck do you get the awesome reflection?

  65. Wilson says:

    Your images are stunning.

    I see you like the stopshot over The Time Machine. Does the stopshot able to control the drops such as double drop and drop collision? Hope I am making sense. 🙂

  66. steve says:

    Great advice and tutorial thanks.
    Awesome pics of course too.

    Can I ask, are the sample shots here, the mushroom shaped ones, a result of a second drop hitting a previous drop?

  67. vijay madan says:

    hi. kev
    A very interesting genre of photography, i learnt a lot from your work. PLZ visit my site also
    and comment.

  68. Mickey Fountain says:

    Where can I find the reflective gloss acrylic sheets that you use in your water drop photograpgy? Are you bouncing color light downward onto the drop, or possibly shooting from above the drop inorder for the water drop to be a completely separate color? Thanks, Mickey

    • photosbykev says:

      All of the acrylic sheets I use I’ve bought from ebay there are plenty of sources on there. I use a mixture of lighting techniques, sometimes the flash guns are covered with coloured gels or I add food colouring to the water.

  69. ThierryD says:

    Very good picture of drop water !
    I use a similar techniques (Infrared) for detecting water drop.
    the cost of the water drop photography detector is very low and the achievement is easy.
    i explain this with pictures and diagram on my website : rienquepourlesyeux.free.fr

  70. Oberstpac says:

    Hi; from sunny California,
    I want to thank you for being willing to share your wealth of knowledge. Many artists wouldn’t do so.  You should consider writing a book. 
    I too have a question.  Do you have any experience or knowledge about The Mumford Time Machine. I have A bit of mony and am trying to decide between the two machines.  Also, I own a canon 7D, and the Canon Speedlite 580EX II; which lens would be better add-on to  make simmilar shots to yours: The  Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Lens, Canon Telephoto EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM Autofocus Lens, or the Canon Macro Photo MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Manual Focus Lens for EOS

    Thanks again.

    • photosbykev says:

      I own and use the Cognisys Stopshot and Time machine triggering systems. Currently I prefer the Cognisys for droplet work however Brian Mumford has released a Droplet system kit for his Time machine which I believe is getting some excellent results but I don’t have first hand experience of it. Personally I think the Cognisys system is more flexible for all sorts of photography but both systems work very well.

      I use the Canon 100mm macro lens for all of my droplet work and would highly recommend it. The Canon 180mm does give you a bigger working distance from the subject which is good for wildlife macro work but it is a heavy beast 🙂 . The MP-E65 lens can’t be recommended for anything other than very specialised macro work. It is very restrictive with limited focussing distance and has been designed purely for true macro work and it does it very well but would be pretty useless for water droplet photography.

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  73. photosbykev says:

    you can link the flashguns in parallel by cutting the original cable and wire both of the guns together. They are triggered by shorting the contacts on the guns so no problem wiring them together.

  74. max says:

    I have a stopshot and two flashes, but only one flash cable. How do you synch the flashes so they fire together? Do you connect each flash using some sort of cable, or are they all connected to the stopshot? If you do use cables, can you send a link where I can find one? Thanks!

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  76. Denis says:

    I hope somebody with some money and imagination comes along and gives you everything you want in life wrapped up into a high paying job with massive satisfaction.

    Your work is very impressive and should be admired, sharing info is the cream of life and you have got that sussed already.

    I hope I meet you one day. 🙂

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  78. Kev,

    I purchased the stopshot and have set up a pvc frame for shooting water droplets. I was wondering however, how you get the color reflections on your shots (two colors). I was thinking about bouncing the main flash off of a blue foam core board (rear of droplet) and bouncing the second flash off of an overhead yellow foam core board (overhead 45 deg rear of droplet). Do you think this would work??? How do you get such good coloration in your shots???

    • photosbykev says:


      I use high reflective gloss acrylic sheets and fire the flashguns directly at them so you see the reflection of the board in the water and droplet. Using your technique should work as the reflected colour will appear on the differing angles of the water droplet and ripples. To maximise the colour saturation I tend to underexpose very slightly, typical -1/2 stop. Another option is to use frosted plastic and fire the flashguns through the plastic, this way you can add simple colour filters to get the colours you want

  79. DJ says:

    Hi Kev,

    Thanks for the tutorial, I’ve found it it very useful indeed. I’ve just started out in photography, and have been wanting to try the water droplet shots for some time. I have a set-up issue that you may or may not be able to help me with, but i thought it was worth a try asking.

    I’ve got a canon 500D, and I’m running 2 jessops 360 AFD flashguns, one wired up to the camera, the 2nd set to a slave. I’ve managed to get a number of sucessful shots, well, in terms of lighting and they’re nice and sharp, as I’m using your method, but I’m still trying to get the perfect crown.

    The problem I’m having is with the flashguns firing, they work for a series of 5 or 6 shots, then stop working, I might get the odd shot firing here or there, but I’m not getting any consistency with the flashguns working. I’ve been checking that there charged ready each time, that the camera is recognising them, that ones a slave and they work if i press the test button every time. So its something I’m missing, its all seems like it should work, but for some reason my set-ups very hit and miss. Can you think of anything off the top of your head that might be causing such issues? I’m sicking to the same manual settings each time, same lighting conditions, strange one.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Kind Regards


    • photosbykev says:

      I’ve switched to a wired system because of the delays I was getting with wireless systems. It maybe possible that your flashguns are going into ‘sleep’ mode?

  80. photosbykev says:

    @thomas moore
    I use the 24vDC 1/4″ BSP shown here http://www.solenoid-valves.com . The Shako PU220AR 12v dc solenoid valve also works well

  81. thomas moore says:


    Would you have a part number or a link to such a relay?

  82. thomas moore says:

    Hi Kev,

    What kind of 5v solid state relay are you using to control the drops?

    • photosbykev says:

      before I switched to the Stopshot system I used a small 5v 50ma relay which was controlled by the digital output pin on the arduino system. The switching side of the relay was rated at 50v 2A so it easily handled the power required to drive the solenoids.

  83. ariefous says:

    Hi Kelvin! I`m very amazed with your works. I`m ordering my first setup for water drop shots from the Cognisys.com – the Stop Shot. However, I`m a bit confused which kind of solenoid valve should I use. My questions are as follows:

    1) Should I give attention to the valve`s open/close response time? If I should, then what is the minimum? let`s say if I wanted to have water drop collisions on the air etc.

    2) The website offers it`s own electronic solenoid valve and can be connected to and controlled by the StopShot, but the one that you`re using is different. In addition, what is Arduino computer. How do you control the valve timing with it? Where can I get it?

    3)Could you explain why you`re using 3 StopShot modules? Is one module insufficient to get similar results?

    Thanks in advance !!!

    • photosbykev says:


      before I purchased the Cognisys Stopshot system I was using my own solenoid valves controlled by a small arduino microprocessor to give me the timing I needed and the camera and flash units were controlled by a Mumford Time Machine, which is similar to, but less flexible than the Stopshot unit. The typical pulse length I give to the solenoids is 10-20ms so they need to be fairly responsive, they also need to operate with a low pressure limit of zero or slightly vaccuum, most valves require some pressure on the input to function correctly. Cognisys sell their own solenoid and marioette syphon and I would seriously recommend you consider their units purely because they have pre-programmed their Stopshots with the timing needed to produce droplets almost straight out of the box.

      I have purchased three Stopshot modules purely because I want ot use more than one solenoid and I can link the modules together to give me a lot of timing circuits, I also use them for wildlife photography with the cross beam system Cognisys sell. One stopshot module and IR trigger etc is all you need to capture the water collision images


      • John says:

        Hi Kev, I was wondering how you link the units together. It seems like you should be able to connect the trigger of one to the sensor of second? I am also wanting to try multiple color drops.

        wonderful work btw

        • photosbykev says:

          Hi John,

          The company sold me a link cable that allows me to trigger a second and third unit from the 1st. I don’t believe it is anything special but it isn’t a straight cable.

          • John says:

            Thanks Kev, I was also wondering if you have any hints on getting more than one drop to follow the same path. While I haven’t done any experimentation yet, it appears the drops don’t have enough momentum when they come out of the nozzle to project them into a different path. I am wondering what’s your experience with this is?
            Thanks for sharing,

          • photosbykev says:

            Getting droplets to follow the same path is very difficult and I’ve yet to achieve it to my satisfaction. I’ve tried using needles and the like to slightly alter the path of each droplet, I’ve also tried positioning one nozzle above another but that doesn’t work. If you find the anwer I would love to know lol

          • John says:

            I may have found a way to make this work. At the least something to look into further. As an experiment, I attached my bicycle tire pump the the stopper in the Mariotte Siphon. I barely added any pressure ( just the weight of the pump handle was enough) . With the nozzle at a slight angle there was enough pressure to change the trajectory of the water drop. I did have to change the pulse on the water valve down to 7.0 ms to get a single drop. I’m pleased, as soon as I get another valve and nozzle i’ll be trying this out with different colors 🙂

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  85. Ammar says:

    sorry i forgot to ask where did you get the valves and trigger system ?

  86. Ammar says:

    your photography are amazing
    i never imagined of seeing such photos
    you made me interested in this kind of photography 🙂
    i have some questions that i’d like you to answer if you don’t mind:
    – can i use the 430EX II instead of the 580EX II ?
    – how much did the two valves and the trigger system cost you ?
    by the way, i’m using a canon 450d with a 100mm macro lens .
    pardon my English if there is any mistakes
    thank you

    • photosbykev says:

      You can use a 430Ex but it very low on power in comparison to the 580Ex and you do need to use the flashgun on the lowest power setting to minimise the flash duration. To get the light output you will have to put the flashgun very very close to the droplet. The valves are from a company called Connexion Development and are £30/each. The trigger can cost you anything from a few pounds if you wire one up yourself, there are plenty of circuit diagrams on the net, or in excess of 500 pounds if you want to spend that much.

  87. nicky says:

    Your shots are very impressive but I must admit to having less success myself…I don’t have an off camera flash so I’ve been relying on the internal flash and some daylight bulbs from my light tent and the results are not too sharp (as you predicted!).

    One thing I was wondering is how you achieve the droplet shapes; do you use deep water? Some of your shots are side on with amazing reflections, is that simply from a very full bowl or are you shooting through glass?

    • photosbykev says:

      The baking trays I normally used are about 5cm deep and I’m dropping the water from about 60cm into the tray with about 3-4cm of water in it. The very low angle shots are shot through the glass of a small ‘fish’ tank I put together.


  88. Jane says:

    Hi Kev,
    This is all so helpful – thanks very much for getting back to me so fast – really appreciate it. I’m going to copy all this and keep it in the computer so that I can have it to hand as a reference. Your explanation is so much clearer than anything else I’ve come across! I’ll start looking into getting some new equipment and a better set-up in the near future,
    Best wishes,

  89. Jane says:

    Thanks for this excellent information! Just two questions: firstly, how do you stop getting the camera soaked – do you wrap most of it in clingfilm apart from the lens? (Does it matter if you get water and food dye on the lens?)

    Second, what two flashguns do you suggest I buy – I can’t attach them to the camera because it won’t synchronise fast enough. I’ve been using an old handheld flash up till now, just using the ‘test’ flash on lowest power, but I need two, synchronised with each other, that I can control as a single unit when the camera is open on Bulb in a dark room. I can’t seem to find what I want just surfing the net.

    Best wishes, Jane

    • photosbykev says:

      Hi Jane,

      I use clingfilm where I can 🙂 typically over the flashguns. If I think the lens is too close and might get splashed I put a UV filter onto the lens. I can clean up the filter off the camera, that way the main lens objective doesn’t get wet at all.

      I use Canon equipment so I use Canon 580Ex flashguns for all of my work. The flashguns are triggered via cables to the Stopshot control unit I have. The control unit also synchronises the camera shutter so that it only remains open long enough for the flash guns to fire and capture the image. Most of the time I shoot around 1/10 second which mean I can have some subdued lighting rather than blacking out the room. To fire both flashes together it is simply a matter of wiring them up in parallel to a pushbutton, if they don’t have the facility to trigger them using a wire you can purchase some small hotshoe adaptors which will give you the facility.

      You need to be looking for powerful flashguns, say a minimum guide number (GN) of 40+ with manual control of the power output, the 580Ex guns are normally used at 1/64 or 1/128 of full power to minimise the duration of the flash and are placed about 100mm from the splashes.

      just shout if you need anything else


  90. photosbykev says:

    @Cemal Ekin
    The location was Lara Beach, Antalaya

  91. Bob says:

    Could you provide more information on the electronics you use to control the flash? Did you build something yourself or did you purchase something? Is the equipment difficult to use? Costly?

    Great stuff!!

  92. Cemal Ekin says:

    I stumbled on to your site from Alex Rabe’s NextGEN Gallery page. Not only did I find your work delightful and very interesting, the information you provide is also highly useful. The best surprise was to find out that you were in Turkey in 2009, so was I, visiting family and friends. Where in Turkey did you take those photographs showing a building that looks like St. Basil’s Cathedral?

    I will come back and explore more. Thanks. — Cemal

  93. classcams says:

    A very intersting subject. Having experimented with firing flash by sound and vision (balloon bursting, dropping coins in water )

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