How its made

This is the first of a series of articles which I suppose could be titled “how do they do that then?”.  I often find myself trying to reverse engineer pictures, and more recently, trying to figure out why the picture works too, however that’s a more subtle art.  For these pieces, I’ll be going through the technique more than anything.  Seeing the picture in your head first is up to you – that’s what really makes you a photographer; not knowing what kit I used to make this image.

Anyway – enough of the philosophy.  First of all – just what is this an image of?  Is it bubbles on the surface of some water?  Where did the idea come from?

It’s like this.  I’m short sighted.  very short sighted.  Without my glasses on, I have macro eyes. My range of focus beats any macro lens you can buy today from 3cm to 6cm.  When I lift my glasses from the shelf in the shower and look at them close enough for my eyes to focus (or “eye”:  at that range, only one eye at a time can be used really)  the image below is basically what I see (maybe with a bit more DOF).  And that’s exactly what this image is – water droplets on my glasses.

If you’re wondering how I took the image without the glasses on my face:  the answer is pretty boring I’m afraid, I have a second pair:  when you’re more or less blind without these contraptions, you have more than one.

The light is natural light from a window behind, through a diffuser.  The colour gradient in the top half was added in Lightroom.

I had the glasses resting on a box on the window sill and the camera on a tripod.  Now, I say it was on a tripod and that sounds pretty simple.  However, looking at it now, its apparent that the top 20% of the “tripod” is actually one sort of mount or adjuster bolted on top of another.  I have a set of Giottos legs and ball head, with Wimberley C12 clamp, Giottos Arca plate screwed into the bottom of a dual axis macro rail which is in turn bolted to the Kirk L-bracket that never leaves my D700.

Happily it all fits together to allow for adjustments in tilt, rotation, left-right and forward-backward.  Its that last one that matters most for macro shots.  You don’t focus by adjusting anything on the lens: you position the tripod so the subject is roughly the right size in the frame, and set the focus on the lens manually to roughly where it needs to be.  The actual focussing is then done by using the geared adjusters on the macro rail to move the whole camera back and forth.  I bought my macro rail from HT Photo in China and it’s a solid piece of kit.

Live view is invaluable here, especially with the magnification function on my Nikon that crops the LCD display to a moveable window on the scene.  Zooming in using this function on live view and using the macro rail adjusters to move the camera allows for very precise focussing.  To take the shot, I then drop out of live-view, lock the mirror up, blank off the view finder and take the shot using a remote release to avoid any vibration or movement of the camera which would knock my focus off-target.

The water was added by my shower – holding it in the water until a suitable pattern of drops was formed – I had around 10 goes before I got drops of the right sizes and roughly spaced how I wanted them.  Post processing Lightroom added the graduated colour, some global and mid-range contrast, some saturation boost and selective sharpening (with an aggressive mask to only sharpen the droplet edges)


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