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Water Frozen in Time

This article follows on from another, Photographing Water, and if the topic we are covering here is difficult to follow then please read the other article first, it also links to other articles relating to photographing water.

Although written as an article, rather than a  project, you could use this as the basis to carry out your own experiments, and I made a point here of not using any special equipment and completing the photos for this article in a very short time. All I have used is a water container, either jug or bowl, kitchen sink with tap, a small piece of black background board, flash, camera and tripod. I used two small flash units but could have done this just as well with one and a reflector.

By using a very fast shutter speed, as with electronic flash, we can freeze water in time, used with running water we get an icicle effect from a tap or a frozen waterfall, but we can go further and explore aspects of water that we cannot see.

We can explore water turbulence by freezing the water, as shown in the image below of water running into a kitchen glass jug.

Shutter speed is only 1/60th of a second,
but in a dimly lit room electric flash duration is the freezing speed.
The setup to take this was just a plastic jug sitting on a glass bowl in the sink with water running, the setup is shown right, but with the tap not running as fast.

Water frozen in time using a high shutter speed and electronic flash

A hole in water

Water has surface tension, this is the slightly curving effect that you can see when you look through the side of a glass jug, and it also provides a surface that some very lightweight insects can use to walk on water. When we drop something into water, a hole is left behind it until the water fills up the hole. The image above shows a drip having entered the water and left a hole.

When we drip water into water, we have a most unusual situation, the surface tension of the drip keeps it intact, so when it enters the water it leaves behind a hole, but is itself like bubbles of water within water.

This bubble of water pressing the other water down gets a push back and can spurt back out of the hole, before it can close behind it, jumping several inches into the air.

In some cases this comes back out of a new hole next to the original, due to the water surface having moved.

This is happening in our sinks, baths, garden ponds and puddles, but it all happens too fast for us to see it. By photographing it and stopping the motion we can see what is happening.

If you had elaborate sensors, you could trigger your camera to take these images in a planned way, but we can also just take a series of images, and select from the images taken. The way I have done this was to count at a speed where the drip hit the water in 3, allowing me to set a rhythm by counting and pressing the shutter just before on or after the count of 3.

So what can be achieved by this method

This is the jug shown above with a drip into it, and the photo shows the moment when this has been ejected back upwards and the bulging hole from the surface.

Showing a slightly earlier point on another drip as the spurt upwards leaves the surface of the water.

I changed the jug to a glass bowl and produced another similar image to the first.

and another similar using a bowl instead of the jug

Take enough photos and invest some time and you could get some really good images, my objective was just to show what could be done. The total time from the first drip photo I took to the last was 14 minutes, this included two setups, one with a jug and the other a bowl.

So what quick experiments could you do, using a similar technique?


See Also:

Photographing Water

Shutter Speed


Lighting and Reflectors Section


By: Keith Park Section: Key:
Page Ref: water_frozen_in_time Topic: Photographic Techniques  Last Updated: 01/2011

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