Note: This article contains affiliate links.

A few years back I purchased the Pluto Trigger, a device that connects to a camera to automatically trigger the camera, depending on what you are trying to achieve. I had originally been looking for something I could use for photographing lighting, and when I was on their website I noticed that they also had a water droplet valve to create water drop photography. While I have attempted this type of photography in the past (with very little luck, I might add) it’s not something I had really considered trying again. But I do like a challenge, so it appealed to me quite a bit.

My first attempt using it was quite successful, and since then I have had a lot of fun playing with the settings, liquids, and even backdrops, to try and achieve different effects. In this article, I will share my experience with this accessory, how I achieve a waterdrop collision, along with some behind-the-scenes of my setups for those of you who are attempting this for yourself.

What is the Pluto Trigger?

The Pluto Trigger is a device that connects to a camera or flash with an app you can use to create photos that are triggered by a certain event. You can use the Pluto Trigger in many different ways, such as to capture lightning or other motion. For this review, however, I’m going to focus on using the trigger along with the water drop Pluto Valve to create waterdrop photos.

PlutoTrigger Device
Waterdrop valve for PlutoTrigger.

Camera Gear

You will require some specific camera gear to create this effect, most importantly you will need a camera that can be set to manual and a lens that can focus on the tiny waterdrop (a macro lens is ideal). Here are my recommendations for gear, along with what I use for my waterdrop photography setups:

Waterdrop valve for PlutoTrigger.

Camera:

  • My gear: FUJIFILM X-T2 and X-T3
  • An interchangeable lens system is ideal
  • Both mirrorless and DSLR will work well
Waterdrop valve for PlutoTrigger.

Lens:

  • My gear: FUJINON XF60mmF2.4 R Macro or FUJINON XF80mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro
  • A macro lens is ideal as you will need to focus up close on the waterdrop (it’s quite small)
Waterdrop valve for PlutoTrigger.

Tripod:

  • My gear: Really Right Stuff tripod with macro rail attachments
  • A sturdy tripod is a must for this setup
  • Macro rails are a nice addition; they will help you make small changes to your composition without having to move the tripod or ball head
Waterdrop valve for PlutoTrigger.

Cable release:

  • My gear: Canon RS-60E3
  • Reduces camera shake when pressing the shutter

Camera Settings

The camera settings you use for your setup will primarily be determined by the amount of light you have in your scene, your lens, and overall composition. What I use in my setups may be different than what you end up using, but here are some general guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Aperture: I try to keep the aperture set to a smaller setting (ƒ/8, ƒ/11, ƒ/16, etc) so that more of the image is in focus with a wider depth of field. However, I will set this to a larger setting (ƒ/2, ƒ/4, etc) if it does not compromise image focus, I need more light in my scene, and do not want the added grain to the image with a higher ISO.
  • ISO: It’s ideal to keep the ISO to its lowest native setting as possible. With my FUJIFILM X-T3, this is an ISO setting of 200. A lower setting will create a clearer image. However, if you need to bring more light into your photos, you can increase this setting to a higher number.
  • Shutter Speed: For this setup, I use a shutter speed setting of 2 or 2.5 seconds and then let the flash create the exposure.
PlutoTrigger Device

Aperture: ƒ/8
Shutter speed: 2.5 sec
ISO: 200
Lens: FUJIFILM 80mm macro

PlutoTrigger Device

Aperture: ƒ/11
Shutter speed: 2.5 sec
ISO: 400
Lens: FUJIFILM 60mm macro

Lighting & Backdrop

When photographing water drops, the background, light setup, and even the container used can be as important (or even more so) as the water drop images themselves. I’ve established somewhat of a standard setup that I use for my images, and expect that it will evolve over time.

When I light my waterdrop setups, I use one off-camera flash and angle it towards the backdrop. This, in turn, reflects light onto the water and creates a beautiful reflection, making the surface of the water look like it is colored. Here is a list of the lighting and backdrop gear that I used for my photos, along with why I chose each of these items:

  1. Off-camera speed light (flash): I have an old Canon flash set up in the background, and all of my waterdrop images I have only used one light. For the setup I use, the flash requires a cable port so that the Pluto Trigger can be connected to the flash. Some speed lights are triggered optically (they require another flash of light to make it fire) or through the camera (directly connected to the hotshot of the camera in order to fire), but with this method, the flash needs to be able to be triggered separately by connecting it to the Pluto Trigger.
  2. Lighting stand: A simple stand to position the flash. What you use will be determined by your setup. For example, sometimes I set the flash off to the side of a table, which requires a light stand that sits on the floor. Other times I will set the flash on the table and angle it towards the backdrop, so a simple multi-mount flash stand works well for this.
  3. Reflector or white foam board: When using only one flash, it’s important to bounce light back towards the waterdrop to add more fill light to the scene. A simple piece of white foam board does the trick nicely.
  4. Colorful backdrops: I prefer to use solid-colored backdrops for my waterdrop scenes. Anything will work well, as long as it has no blemishes and is large enough to encompass the entire background area in the frame, along with the reflected surface.
PlutoTrigger Device

Containers & Accessories

You will need some additional items to create your setup, specifically the container that the droplets will fall into, as well as a way to focus on your water droplets.

  • Container: One thing I quickly learned when photographing water drops is that the container’s color and shape can make a big impact on the end results. A pure-black smooth container seems to work best, and I (luckily) found a large black glossy hard plastic bowl while shopping around (it took 2–3 stores to find something that worked). The color black works best because it allows the reflections in the water to really show through. However, if there is any texture or other colors inside of the container, those will also show in the photos.
  • Focusing aid: Another thing I found that I needed was a way to pre-focus on the water droplet as it hits the water. I found that the best way to get the most accurate focusing was to place something across the container I use and then trigger a droplet to locate the focus spot. I found that an architect’s ruler was perfect for this setup. I place it across the container and line it up so that the water droplet hits the top of it. Then, I focus my lens on that spot and my water drop images will be in focus.
PlutoTrigger Device
PlutoTrigger Device

Liquids

For the liquid in the valve, I prefer to use a mixture of water, xanthan gum (an additive that makes the liquid thicker), half-and-half (cream), and food coloring. Here’s how:

  1. First, I create a concentrate of water plus xanthan gum and let it sit overnight. This creates a goopy solution that can be added to the valve liquid that gives it a higher amount of viscosity (making it thicker).
  2. Next, I take about one cup of cold water and add small spoonfuls of the concentrate until the water is thick (similar to the consistency of olive oil).
  3. I add a small amount of half-and-half to make the mixture opaque.
  4. Lastly, I add food coloring to give the liquid a colorized effect.

Watch the video below to see how I create my waterdrop liquid:

Capturing a Collision

The goal of most waterdrop photography is to photograph a collision: when one waterdrop collides with another. Here is an example of how you can get started by creating your own waterdrop collisions.

Note: The settings I use in the app will likely vary from what you see here to what you try at home. There are many variables that will determine what the settings will be; my settings are different each time. Please use this as a guide to learn the method of creating a collision, and ignore the specific numbers on the app screen examples.

Step 1:

Create a "peak"

First, start out with only one drop. You'll need to get the timing set so that you create a "peak" that forms after the droplet has gone under the water and splashes back up.

Step 2:

Add the second drop

Set the Drop2 Size with the same size as Drop1. Then, make small, incremental changes to the Drop2 Delay until the second drop touches the peak.

Step 3:

Play with flash sync settings

Adjust the Flash Delay to show the full splash after the collision is made. You can do this by making the Flash Delay greater. Once you get to this point, it's time to experiment! Make subtle change to one setting at a time to see what you can create.

Triggering the Pluto Trigger

Here's how to create a photo using the Pluto Trigger and Waterdrop valve:

  1. Use the cable release to open the shutter. The camera will be open for 2 or 2.5 seconds (whichever you have it set to).
  2. After pressing the shutter, click the "play" button on the Pluto Trigger app. This will activate the water drop valve to release a drop (at whatever size and delay you have it set to), and will also make the flash pop at the delay it is set to in the app.

That's it! You don't actually connect the Pluto Trigger to the camera, everything is done in the app.

Start to Finish

Here's a basic walkthrough of what a typical water drop photoshoot looks like. Here I will create a basic two-drop collision.

Note: One thing to keep in mind is that the app settings I have for my setup may vary drastically if you are trying this yourself. There are too many variables that determine what the water droplets look like and how to get them to collide that replicating my results would be nearly impossible. Some of these variables include the liquid used, the temperature of the liquid, the depth of the container, the distance of the valve to the surface, and even how much liquid is inside the valve. All of these affect the overall results. What is important to understand when doing this yourself is that you need to learn the process of how to achieve a collision. Once you have that down you will be able to achieve several collision photographs every single time you do a shoot.

Step 1:

Create the liquid

Get an easy-to-pour container (I prefer to use a 1-cup Pyrex glass measuring cup) and create your liquid. Follow the steps in the video I shared above to get a good mixture for this setup.

Step 2:

Fill the container with clean water

Fill your container with clean, cold water. It's also a good idea to place something else underneath it, such as a sheet pan with high sides, to catch water that splashes out or flows over the edge. (Trust me, this process can get messy!)

Step 3:

Position the valve over the container

Position the valve upright over the container. I use a Manfrotto Magic Arm connected to either a light stand or something sturdy (in this example, the valve is connected to the Magic Arm with a clamp, which is then connected to my bookshelf just to the right of the table).

Step 4:

Set the backdrop

Position the backdrop behind the container. If it will not stay upright, I will use a small amount of gaffer tape to hold it in place to another backdrop (such as a piece of large foamboard).

Step 5:

Set up the light and reflector

Position the light so that it is approximately at a 45-degree angle to the backdrop. You want the light to bounce off of the backdrop and reflect onto the waterdrop and water in the container. You will also want to use a reflector on the opposite side. I like to use a folded piece of white foamboard placed just next to the container.

Step 6:

Connect the Pluto Trigger, Valve, and App

Next, connect both the Flash and Valve to the Pluto Trigger. You will also want to connect your phone app to the Pluto Trigger at this time (it connects via Bluetooth). For this setup, nothing gets connected to the camera. Instead, you will activate the flash with the app while the camera's shutter is open.

Step 7:

Set composition and focus the lens

Place an architectural ruler across the container and trigger a drop manually to determine where the drop is hitting. Make sure the drop is hitting the ruler. Then, set your composition so that the drop area is in the center of the frame. Using manual focus, focus on the area the drop hits the ruler.

Step 8:

Set the exposure

Now it's time to play around with your flash and camera settings:

  • Shutter speed: Set this to 2 or 2.5 seconds.
  • Aperture: Try using a smaller aperture to start with (such as ƒ/11). You might need to adjust this later on.
  • ISO: Start with the lowest native ISO setting (such as 100 or 200). This might need to be adjusted if you require more light.
  • Flash exposure: It's ideal to have a faster flash exposure, such as 1/32 sec. A faster flash setting will freeze the action better. If the flash is too slow, such as 1/2 sec, then you might start seeing motion blur with the water drops.

Then, turn out the lights and test your settings, and adjust as needed to get a good exposure. You will want to make sure you test this with a water drop visible (it doesn't have to be a collision) so that you know how the light looks on the droplets.

IMPORTANT: Once you have your exposure set, create a test shot without using the flash. You want to make sure that very little or no light is visible in this shot (it should be pure black or nearly pure black).

Step 9:

Create a collision

Now, follow the steps listed previously in this article to create a collision. Keep in mind that your settings will probably be different than mine. It's important to pay attention to what the drops are doing each time so you can plan your next move.

Step 10:

Experiment!

Once you get the hang of it and are in a groove, don't be afraid to start all over again with a different color liquid or background, or try using different sized droplets in the app.

Tips, Tricks, and Troubleshooting

Here are some tips, tricks, and troubleshooting to help you on your way to creating beautiful waterdrop photographs:

Tips & Tricks:

  • Use cold water: Colder water will make your liquid thicker and less runny.
  • Only change one thing at a time: When using the app, make sure that you are making small changes to only one setting at a time. If you change too many settings at once, you might get lost with your droplet setup and have to start your app settings all over again to find your baseline.
  • Watch for bubbles: Oftentimes the water drops will create bubbles on the surface of the water in between shots. Make sure that these are popped before you create more photos or they will ruin your shots. You can either pop them yourself or wait a few moments for them to pop on their own.
  • Check focus constantly: Every time you change your camera position you will also need to refocus the camera. I find that a flashlight can be handy to have nearby if you don't feel like walking over to turn the light switch on and off. It sounds silly, but when you really get into this you can be doing one shoot for several hours, and the extra back-and-forth to turn the switch on and off can add up! It's also a good idea to check the focus of your shots every so often to make sure that nothing was accidentally changed; it's best to zoom in on your preview to ensure the photo is in focus.
  • Keep the valve liquid filled up: I find that when the valve liquid gets too low, it can start to affect the way the waterdrops look. I tend to add more liquid on a regular basis to keep my collisions consistent.
  • Consider the variables of your location and setting: There are a lot of variables that will affect how your photos turn out. If you were to copy my settings, you would still probably end up with different results. Variables such as the temperature of the water and air, the exact mix of your liquid, depth of the container, height from the valve to the surface of the water, and more, will determine what your individual shots look like.

Troubleshooting:

  • The drops are too "splashy": If you see a lot of little water droplets splattering around your collision, the water drop liquid in the valve might be too thin. Try putting more additives into the valve's liquid to see if that improves things.
  • Nothing is coming out of the valve: If you find that nothing is happening when you use the app, there could be two problems to look into. First, the water droplet might be set to a size that is too small for the valve to create. Increase the droplet size and try again. Another problem could be that the valve is clogged. Try pushing a pipe cleaner up the nozzle to clear it out. It's also a good idea to clean the valve and nozzle after each use. I will usually just flush clean water through it and press the manual button on the valve to push water through it a few times.
  • The collisions started looking inconsistent or stopped working: Sometimes this happens and it's a fluke or a misfire of the valve. Other times it could be that the valve liquid is too low, which can affect how the collisions look. Fill up the valve liquid to the max level again and start over.
  • The photo is hazy or has an orange color cast: This is likely happening because there is too much light in the room. Make sure that the room is darkened so that if you create a photo with the flash turned off, the image will be pitch black or almost completely black.
  • The reflection is showing the background too much: If this is happening, you might need to adjust either your composition (move the camera higher or lower), or reposition the backdrop. It's also possible that the backdrop is too small, so you may want to consider using something larger.

Gear List

Here is a list of the gear that I use for my waterdrop photography that can be purchased online. Some items are not included here because they are not available online (or I found them in a store while shopping in person).

Note: This article contains affiliate links.

A few years back I purchased the Pluto Trigger, a device that connects to a camera to automatically trigger the camera, depending on what you are trying to achieve. I had originally been looking for something I could use for photographing lighting, and when I was on their website I noticed that they also had a water droplet valve to create water drop photography. While I have attempted this type of photography in the past (with very little luck, I might add) it’s not something I had really considered trying again. But I do like a challenge, so it appealed to me quite a bit.

My first attempt using it was quite successful, and since then I have had a lot of fun playing with the settings, liquids, and even backdrops, to try and achieve different effects. In this article, I will share my experience with this accessory, how I achieve a waterdrop collision, along with some behind-the-scenes of my setups for those of you who are attempting this for yourself.

What is the Pluto Trigger?

The Pluto Trigger is a device that connects to a camera or flash with an app you can use to create photos that are triggered by a certain event. You can use the Pluto Trigger in many different ways, such as to capture lightning or other motion. For this review, however, I’m going to focus on using the trigger along with the water drop Pluto Valve to create waterdrop photos.

PlutoTrigger Device
Waterdrop valve for PlutoTrigger.

Camera Gear

You will require some specific camera gear to create this effect, most importantly you will need a camera that can be set to manual and a lens that can focus on the tiny waterdrop (a macro lens is ideal). Here are my recommendations for gear, along with what I use for my waterdrop photography setups:

Waterdrop valve for PlutoTrigger.

Camera:

  • My gear: FUJIFILM X-T2 and X-T3
  • An interchangeable lens system is ideal
  • Both mirrorless and DSLR will work well
Waterdrop valve for PlutoTrigger.

Lens:

  • My gear: FUJINON XF60mmF2.4 R Macro or FUJINON XF80mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro
  • A macro lens is ideal as you will need to focus up close on the waterdrop (it’s quite small)
Waterdrop valve for PlutoTrigger.

Tripod:

  • My gear: Really Right Stuff tripod with macro rail attachments
  • A sturdy tripod is a must for this setup
  • Macro rails are a nice addition; they will help you make small changes to your composition without having to move the tripod or ball head
Waterdrop valve for PlutoTrigger.

Cable release:

  • My gear: Canon RS-60E3
  • Reduces camera shake when pressing the shutter

Camera Settings

The camera settings you use for your setup will primarily be determined by the amount of light you have in your scene, your lens, and overall composition. What I use in my setups may be different than what you end up using, but here are some general guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Aperture: I try to keep the aperture set to a smaller setting (ƒ/8, ƒ/11, ƒ/16, etc) so that more of the image is in focus with a wider depth of field. However, I will set this to a larger setting (ƒ/2, ƒ/4, etc) if it does not compromise image focus, I need more light in my scene, and do not want the added grain to the image with a higher ISO.
  • ISO: It’s ideal to keep the ISO to its lowest native setting as possible. With my FUJIFILM X-T3, this is an ISO setting of 200. A lower setting will create a clearer image. However, if you need to bring more light into your photos, you can increase this setting to a higher number.
  • Shutter Speed: For this setup, I use a shutter speed setting of 2 or 2.5 seconds and then let the flash create the exposure.
PlutoTrigger Device

Aperture: ƒ/8
Shutter speed: 2.5 sec
ISO: 200
Lens: FUJIFILM 80mm macro

PlutoTrigger Device

Aperture: ƒ/11
Shutter speed: 2.5 sec
ISO: 400
Lens: FUJIFILM 60mm macro

Lighting & Backdrop

When photographing water drops, the background, light setup, and even the container used can be as important (or even more so) as the water drop images themselves. I’ve established somewhat of a standard setup that I use for my images, and expect that it will evolve over time.

When I light my waterdrop setups, I use one off-camera flash and angle it towards the backdrop. This, in turn, reflects light onto the water and creates a beautiful reflection, making the surface of the water look like it is colored. Here is a list of the lighting and backdrop gear that I used for my photos, along with why I chose each of these items:

  1. Off-camera speed light (flash): I have an old Canon flash set up in the background, and all of my waterdrop images I have only used one light. For the setup I use, the flash requires a cable port so that the Pluto Trigger can be connected to the flash. Some speed lights are triggered optically (they require another flash of light to make it fire) or through the camera (directly connected to the hotshot of the camera in order to fire), but with this method, the flash needs to be able to be triggered separately by connecting it to the Pluto Trigger.
  2. Lighting stand: A simple stand to position the flash. What you use will be determined by your setup. For example, sometimes I set the flash off to the side of a table, which requires a light stand that sits on the floor. Other times I will set the flash on the table and angle it towards the backdrop, so a simple multi-mount flash stand works well for this.
  3. Reflector or white foam board: When using only one flash, it’s important to bounce light back towards the waterdrop to add more fill light to the scene. A simple piece of white foam board does the trick nicely.
  4. Colorful backdrops: I prefer to use solid-colored backdrops for my waterdrop scenes. Anything will work well, as long as it has no blemishes and is large enough to encompass the entire background area in the frame, along with the reflected surface.
PlutoTrigger Device

Containers & Accessories

You will need some additional items to create your setup, specifically the container that the droplets will fall into, as well as a way to focus on your water droplets.

  • Container: One thing I quickly learned when photographing water drops is that the container’s color and shape can make a big impact on the end results. A pure-black smooth container seems to work best, and I (luckily) found a large black glossy hard plastic bowl while shopping around (it took 2–3 stores to find something that worked). The color black works best because it allows the reflections in the water to really show through. However, if there is any texture or other colors inside of the container, those will also show in the photos.
  • Focusing aid: Another thing I found that I needed was a way to pre-focus on the water droplet as it hits the water. I found that the best way to get the most accurate focusing was to place something across the container I use and then trigger a droplet to locate the focus spot. I found that an architect’s ruler was perfect for this setup. I place it across the container and line it up so that the water droplet hits the top of it. Then, I focus my lens on that spot and my water drop images will be in focus.
PlutoTrigger Device
PlutoTrigger Device

Liquids

For the liquid in the valve, I prefer to use a mixture of water, xanthan gum (an additive that makes the liquid thicker), half-and-half (cream), and food coloring. Here’s how:

  1. First, I create a concentrate of water plus xanthan gum and let it sit overnight. This creates a goopy solution that can be added to the valve liquid that gives it a higher amount of viscosity (making it thicker).
  2. Next, I take about one cup of cold water and add small spoonfuls of the concentrate until the water is thick (similar to the consistency of olive oil).
  3. I add a small amount of half-and-half to make the mixture opaque.
  4. Lastly, I add food coloring to give the liquid a colorized effect.

Watch the video below to see how I create my waterdrop liquid:

Capturing a Collision

The goal of most waterdrop photography is to photograph a collision: when one waterdrop collides with another. Here is an example of how you can get started by creating your own waterdrop collisions.

Note: The settings I use in the app will likely vary from what you see here to what you try at home. There are many variables that will determine what the settings will be; my settings are different each time. Please use this as a guide to learn the method of creating a collision, and ignore the specific numbers on the app screen examples.

Step 1:

Create a "peak"

First, start out with only one drop. You'll need to get the timing set so that you create a "peak" that forms after the droplet has gone under the water and splashes back up.

Step 2:

Add the second drop

Set the Drop2 Size with the same size as Drop1. Then, make small, incremental changes to the Drop2 Delay until the second drop touches the peak.

Step 3:

Play with flash sync settings

Adjust the Flash Delay to show the full splash after the collision is made. You can do this by making the Flash Delay greater. Once you get to this point, it's time to experiment! Make subtle change to one setting at a time to see what you can create.

Triggering the Pluto Trigger

Here's how to create a photo using the Pluto Trigger and Waterdrop valve:

  1. Use the cable release to open the shutter. The camera will be open for 2 or 2.5 seconds (whichever you have it set to).
  2. After pressing the shutter, click the "play" button on the Pluto Trigger app. This will activate the water drop valve to release a drop (at whatever size and delay you have it set to), and will also make the flash pop at the delay it is set to in the app.

That's it! You don't actually connect the Pluto Trigger to the camera, everything is done in the app.

Start to Finish

Here's a basic walkthrough of what a typical water drop photoshoot looks like. Here I will create a basic two-drop collision.

Note: One thing to keep in mind is that the app settings I have for my setup may vary drastically if you are trying this yourself. There are too many variables that determine what the water droplets look like and how to get them to collide that replicating my results would be nearly impossible. Some of these variables include the liquid used, the temperature of the liquid, the depth of the container, the distance of the valve to the surface, and even how much liquid is inside the valve. All of these affect the overall results. What is important to understand when doing this yourself is that you need to learn the process of how to achieve a collision. Once you have that down you will be able to achieve several collision photographs every single time you do a shoot.

Step 1:

Create the liquid

Get an easy-to-pour container (I prefer to use a 1-cup Pyrex glass measuring cup) and create your liquid. Follow the steps in the video I shared above to get a good mixture for this setup.

Step 2:

Fill the container with clean water

Fill your container with clean, cold water. It's also a good idea to place something else underneath it, such as a sheet pan with high sides, to catch water that splashes out or flows over the edge. (Trust me, this process can get messy!)

Step 3:

Position the valve over the container

Position the valve upright over the container. I use a Manfrotto Magic Arm connected to either a light stand or something sturdy (in this example, the valve is connected to the Magic Arm with a clamp, which is then connected to my bookshelf just to the right of the table).

Step 4:

Set the backdrop

Position the backdrop behind the container. If it will not stay upright, I will use a small amount of gaffer tape to hold it in place to another backdrop (such as a piece of large foamboard).

Step 5:

Set up the light and reflector

Position the light so that it is approximately at a 45-degree angle to the backdrop. You want the light to bounce off of the backdrop and reflect onto the waterdrop and water in the container. You will also want to use a reflector on the opposite side. I like to use a folded piece of white foamboard placed just next to the container.

Step 6:

Connect the Pluto Trigger, Valve, and App

Next, connect both the Flash and Valve to the Pluto Trigger. You will also want to connect your phone app to the Pluto Trigger at this time (it connects via Bluetooth). For this setup, nothing gets connected to the camera. Instead, you will activate the flash with the app while the camera's shutter is open.

Step 7:

Set composition and focus the lens

Place an architectural ruler across the container and trigger a drop manually to determine where the drop is hitting. Make sure the drop is hitting the ruler. Then, set your composition so that the drop area is in the center of the frame. Using manual focus, focus on the area the drop hits the ruler.

Step 8:

Set the exposure

Now it's time to play around with your flash and camera settings:

  • Shutter speed: Set this to 2 or 2.5 seconds.
  • Aperture: Try using a smaller aperture to start with (such as ƒ/11). You might need to adjust this later on.
  • ISO: Start with the lowest native ISO setting (such as 100 or 200). This might need to be adjusted if you require more light.
  • Flash exposure: It's ideal to have a faster flash exposure, such as 1/32 sec. A faster flash setting will freeze the action better. If the flash is too slow, such as 1/2 sec, then you might start seeing motion blur with the water drops.

Then, turn out the lights and test your settings, and adjust as needed to get a good exposure. You will want to make sure you test this with a water drop visible (it doesn't have to be a collision) so that you know how the light looks on the droplets.

IMPORTANT: Once you have your exposure set, create a test shot without using the flash. You want to make sure that very little or no light is visible in this shot (it should be pure black or nearly pure black).

Step 9:

Create a collision

Now, follow the steps listed previously in this article to create a collision. Keep in mind that your settings will probably be different than mine. It's important to pay attention to what the drops are doing each time so you can plan your next move.

Step 10:

Experiment!

Once you get the hang of it and are in a groove, don't be afraid to start all over again with a different color liquid or background, or try using different sized droplets in the app.

Tips, Tricks, and Troubleshooting

Here are some tips, tricks, and troubleshooting to help you on your way to creating beautiful waterdrop photographs:

Tips & Tricks:

  • Use cold water: Colder water will make your liquid thicker and less runny.
  • Only change one thing at a time: When using the app, make sure that you are making small changes to only one setting at a time. If you change too many settings at once, you might get lost with your droplet setup and have to start your app settings all over again to find your baseline.
  • Watch for bubbles: Oftentimes the water drops will create bubbles on the surface of the water in between shots. Make sure that these are popped before you create more photos or they will ruin your shots. You can either pop them yourself or wait a few moments for them to pop on their own.
  • Check focus constantly: Every time you change your camera position you will also need to refocus the camera. I find that a flashlight can be handy to have nearby if you don't feel like walking over to turn the light switch on and off. It sounds silly, but when you really get into this you can be doing one shoot for several hours, and the extra back-and-forth to turn the switch on and off can add up! It's also a good idea to check the focus of your shots every so often to make sure that nothing was accidentally changed; it's best to zoom in on your preview to ensure the photo is in focus.
  • Keep the valve liquid filled up: I find that when the valve liquid gets too low, it can start to affect the way the waterdrops look. I tend to add more liquid on a regular basis to keep my collisions consistent.
  • Consider the variables of your location and setting: There are a lot of variables that will affect how your photos turn out. If you were to copy my settings, you would still probably end up with different results. Variables such as the temperature of the water and air, the exact mix of your liquid, depth of the container, height from the valve to the surface of the water, and more, will determine what your individual shots look like.

Troubleshooting:

  • The drops are too "splashy": If you see a lot of little water droplets splattering around your collision, the water drop liquid in the valve might be too thin. Try putting more additives into the valve's liquid to see if that improves things.
  • Nothing is coming out of the valve: If you find that nothing is happening when you use the app, there could be two problems to look into. First, the water droplet might be set to a size that is too small for the valve to create. Increase the droplet size and try again. Another problem could be that the valve is clogged. Try pushing a pipe cleaner up the nozzle to clear it out. It's also a good idea to clean the valve and nozzle after each use. I will usually just flush clean water through it and press the manual button on the valve to push water through it a few times.
  • The collisions started looking inconsistent or stopped working: Sometimes this happens and it's a fluke or a misfire of the valve. Other times it could be that the valve liquid is too low, which can affect how the collisions look. Fill up the valve liquid to the max level again and start over.
  • The photo is hazy or has an orange color cast: This is likely happening because there is too much light in the room. Make sure that the room is darkened so that if you create a photo with the flash turned off, the image will be pitch black or almost completely black.
  • The reflection is showing the background too much: If this is happening, you might need to adjust either your composition (move the camera higher or lower), or reposition the backdrop. It's also possible that the backdrop is too small, so you may want to consider using something larger.

Gear List

Here is a list of the gear that I use for my waterdrop photography that can be purchased online. Some items are not included here because they are not available online (or I found them in a store while shopping in person).

Nicole S. Young is a photographer, published author, and educator specializing in Lightroom, Photoshop, and photography. She is best known for her books on food photography but is widely versed in various photographic genres, including landscape, nature, stock, travel, and lifestyle.

21 Comments

  1. Steve Stevenson June 8, 2021 at 4:51 pm - Reply

    Awesome blog post Nicole! I am interested in doing water drop photography and this has given me a solid foundation to start from.
    Thank you so much.

    • Nicole S. Young June 8, 2021 at 5:38 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much, Steve! It’s a lot of fun if you’re like me and enjoy experimental types of photography where you never really know what you will get :)

  2. David M Simmons June 8, 2021 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    Very detailed post with such great information. Thank you for sharing, I’ve kinda been interested in this for a while, this may have been the push I needed.

    Thank you!

  3. Katrina June 8, 2021 at 6:39 pm - Reply

    This is so cool! Thanks for sharing such a detailed post and listing out what you use, etc.

  4. Neil Palmer June 9, 2021 at 1:29 am - Reply

    Thanks for an excellent article Nicole.
    I had tried water drop photography but didn’t know about the second drop trick.
    I did mine using a leaking tap and a stainless bowl, it gave a “Terminator Metal Man” type appearance to the water.

    Thanks for a very informative well written article.

  5. antonio sartorello costa June 9, 2021 at 2:45 pm - Reply

    excelente parabéns!!!!

  6. David June 11, 2021 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    Thanks. This is very helpful.

  7. marc labro June 26, 2021 at 11:14 pm - Reply

    very nice article.
    A pity pluto doesn’t have a second cable to the camera like miops. On my D750, pluto triggered D750 with infrared but on my new Z6ii there is no infrared and a cable shutter is tedious to use.
    I would be interested to see the setup of multi flashes to better lighten background and drops. Would you use one flash triggered by pluto and other flashes in slave mode triggered by infrared by the master flash ? What is the “3-flash” stand and what is so special for triggering ?

    Already used radio trigering for waterdrops ?

    How can we setup an iphone 8 to take a slow motion video of water drop ? I thought we needed to film at 10K fps.

    marc

  8. Sheldon Katz June 30, 2021 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    Marc.

    Look at an MJKZZ drip kit. http://www.mjkzz.biz

    I have a Pluto and an MJKZZ. I prefer the latter. It has a wired shutter port and a wired flash post. No app is needed. The controller can control up to three separate droppers. You control the whole thing with a small remote cntrol.

    • Nicole S. Young June 30, 2021 at 2:54 pm - Reply

      I have seen those before. They’re a bit spendy, but I might consider something like that once I have more space to set it up.

  9. Sheldon Katz July 1, 2021 at 5:54 am - Reply

    Nicole. I love your GIF in step 10! I need to try that!!

    Thank you

  10. Steven Radcliffe July 23, 2021 at 12:06 pm - Reply

    Thank you! This is very well done. I decided I wanted to enter one of these in a competition as a RAW file in a RAW category. That meant no changes – right out of the camera. I couldn’t have highlights typical of the naked speed lights so I went with my Flashpoint 360 & 36-inch Octabox. The result is ultra-soft and silky. Not sure yet how it will do. I’ll let you know what feedback I get. I’ll put some of the “soft” ones untouched on my website: client access code: H20

  11. James Thompson August 29, 2021 at 2:07 am - Reply

    Thanks for this Nicole. I have had a Pluto Trigger for about 5 months now and this blog gave me the inspiration to try it out.

  12. Michael April 9, 2022 at 6:48 am - Reply

    Nicole, your attention to detail and your ability to concisely present those details is impressive. Also, ” but when you really get into this you can be doing one shoot for several hours” made me less irritated at how long it took me to get adequate results.

    • Nicole S. Young April 9, 2022 at 2:08 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Michael! It’s a really fun type of photography to play with. Sometimes it takes some time to set it up and get things working, but it’s fun to discover unexpected the results can be the more you get into it.

  13. Rita April 23, 2022 at 6:49 am - Reply

    Thanks for this Nicole. I noticed you used the FUJIFILM XT2 too. That’s the camera I have. As a landscape photographer, I have never use flash. Maybe you can give me some tips on flash settings? Thanks

    • Nicole S. Young April 25, 2022 at 10:46 am - Reply

      Setting the flash simply determines how much light is illuminating the scene. You’ll want to use it in manual mode for a waterdrop setup. Flash power settings are set in fractions of “stops” and can be thought of as similar to how shutter speed is set. A flash set to 1/16 is going to produce less light than if it were set to 1/4.

      For waterdrop photography, if your flash is set too high (1/4, 1/2, etc.) you might see some blurred movement, just like you would if you had a slower shutter speed with a fast-moving subject. Try keeping the flash set to a lower setting so that it is faster and freezes the action of the water drops.

      • Rita April 25, 2022 at 2:51 pm - Reply

        Thanks for your prompt response, Nicole. I gathered the issue I had was because when I used FUJIFILM with Godox flash system, the flash setting on my camera will not let me put it to M it always return to TTL. So my flash delays were always incorrect n inconsistent.
        When I managed to get image of first drop about a couple of inches above surface of water, and I reduce my delay by 1ms, the image already shows crown.
        Trust I need to find a way to get my camera setting mode to M when using the Godox X2T-F. You encountered anyone having similar problem?

  14. Scott September 22, 2022 at 6:56 am - Reply

    Have you tried skipping the trigger and firing the flash straight from the valve controller?

    • Nicole S. Young September 22, 2022 at 10:05 am - Reply

      I have found that the flash needs to be triggered using the app to get the best results. Even a few milliseconds in one direction or the other can be the difference between getting a collision or just a regular (boring) water drop.

      • Scott September 22, 2022 at 8:10 pm - Reply

        Sorry I wasn’t as clear as I should have been in my comment. I meant connect the flash to the water drip valve directly and not use the Pluto trigger. But now I realize they designed the system around the trigger (expensively) and so the trigger trips both the flash and the water drip valve both. The app controls the trigger instead of the app controlling both the trigger and the drip valve. Thanks for the clarity. I didn’t get that at all from their website.

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