Water Drop Photography

February 03, 2015  •  11 Comments

I recently entered into the realm of high speed photography.  My focus is on water drops or other types of medium colliding in mid air.

My setup consists of the MJKZZ three valve premium water drop kit, a Kickstarter project, and a frame made from 80/20 materials. The MJKZZ kit is all inclusive and consists of three tanks (reservoirs), a controller board with remote control, and various other pieces and parts. Assembling the various bars, connectors, and joining plates remind me of when I was creating new and exciting things on the living room floor of my grandparent's house with my erector set.  You don't necessarily need the frame for the one valve setup, but you'll need something more substantial when using two or more valves.

Nikon D750: Nikkor 105mm f/2.8: ISO: 200 1/8sec @ f//14

The three tanks are mounted on a bracket connected to the top of the frame rail. There are three valves mounted below each tank on another horizontal rail and connected by a length of tubing also included in the kit, these are small Shako valves with solenoids. I use three or sometimes four Yongnuo 560III speedlites for flash units. Although I have good Nikon speedlites, all four of the Yongnuos cost about half of what my one good Nikon flash units cost. I clamp a sheet of clear plexiglass from Home Depot onto each side of the frame for splash control. Seems the collisions can get a little out of control at times.

Nikon D750: Nikkor 105mm f/2.8: ISO: 200 1/8sec @ f//18   Nikon D750: Nikkor 105mm f/2.8: ISO: 200 1/8sec @ f//18

I purchased an assortment of containers for the drops to form into a "jet". I'm always on the hunt for something new that might be better suited for the application. I recently attended the Wilderness Week in Pigeon Forge, TN and found some handmade pottery that it just about perfect for this application. The valves, master flash unit, and camera shutter release are all connected to the main controller board (the magic board). With the remote control unit I am able to change all the pertinent settings on the controller board.

"Golfer"Nikon D750: Nikkor 105mm f/2.8: ISO: 200 1/8sec @ f//18

After filling the tank and making sure the pool and valve are both leveled, I'm ready to start. It’s imperative everything is level or you run the risk of the drops not colliding properly with the jet. This "jet" I refer to is actually a Worthington Jet. This effect is caused when a drop impacts a liquid surface and produces splashing. In the splash regime, the impacting drop creates a crater in the fluid surface, followed by a crown around the crater. Additionally. A central jet, called the "Rayleigh" or "Worthington Jet" protrudes from the center of the crater. If the impact energy is high enough, the jet rises to the point where it pinches off, sending one or more droplets upward out of the surface. You can see this happening in several images where the collision occurs above the jet.

Nikon D750: Nikkor 105mm f/2.8: ISO: 200 1/8sec @ f//20

There are numerous settings for achieving good results, first is Camera Lag. This isn’t that important but it should be set to the correct value for your specific camera, next is Drop Size. The value for the first drop affects the height of your jet and resulting collision with the second drop. Flash Delay is important in capturing the point in time which collision occurs. One millisecond variation in time can be the difference in getting an exceptional shot or a poor one. And finally we have the Delay setting (delay between drops). The Delay value is the time between drops and also measured in milliseconds.

Nikon D750: Nikkor 105mm f/2.8: ISO: 200 1/8sec @ f//14

Everything has an impact the Worthington Jet and subsequent collision. If you’re using more than one valve (for multiple colors of collisions), then you have a Sync (delay between valves) setting as well. Using multiple valves becomes more complicated. However, I thought using one valve was very challenging but with the help of a kind gentleman in Edinburg I was able to progress much faster than I would have on my own and probably kept me from being admitted to the local metal health ward.

Nikon D750: Nikkor 105mm f/2.8: ISO: 200 1/8sec @ f//18

I usually start with one drop and substantiate the jet height, then start introducing the second drop. By adjusting the flash delay you capture the collision at different stages. It’s pretty amazing how many different formations you can create by adjusting the flash delay one or two milliseconds. By adjusting the Delay you can capture the separation of the jet and how it collides with the second drop. By changing The first and/ or second Drop Size the formations change, taking on a whole different look. This all sounds easy, and it is compared to having to do this by hand or without the controller. However, it’s still very frustrating at times, especially with multiple valves. 

Nikon D750: Nikkor 105mm f/2.8: ISO: 200 1/5sec @ f//16

I have experimented with various solutions and mixtures such as water, milk, windshield fluid, anti-freeze, xantham gum, glycerin, rinse aide, and nature clean. The hardest part was coming up with a proper mixture and ratio for what appealed to me most. My latest effort has been focused on Nikon D750: Nikkor 105mm f/2.8: ISO: 200 1/8sec @ f//14 creating my own custom backgrounds of different colors and patterns to compliment the collisions.



Great write up!
Your images are amazing as always. Looking forward to your next posting.
This is very interesting, John and I enjoy your pictures very much. It seems to be right up your engineering alley :-) Need to find out how you got an off brand speed light to work with your Nikon.
Eldon & Bonny(non-registered)
Wow! You have really gone high tech now. Beautiful
Janie Barbosa(non-registered)
Amazing collection of incredible images!
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