Home Photography Ideas: Photograph Abstract Oil & Water Photography

Watch the video: Home Photography Ideas – Abstract Oil & Water Photography

Water and oil may not mix, but they can create unique photographs. With a few household items, a flash (or a strong lamp), and the right camera settings, we can create bold and vibrant abstract images.

The key here is to personalize our light source. By placing a colored material or a custom shape in front of the light, we can turn it into our own softbox. This light will then reflect in the oil and water to create our abstract art.

Every little bubble and drop of oil is highly reflective, so at the right angle, it reflects the light from our source back to the camera. The result is a seemingly endless array of bubbles – some on the surface of the water, others drifting deep below – each containing the shapes and colors of our light source in miniature form.

(Image credit: James Paterson / Digital Camera World)

We used a colorful Union Jack flag for one of our oily highlights, but you can use any semi-translucent material. Or, if you prefer arts and crafts, you can make your own creation using cardboard, scissors, and colored tracing paper or acetate. Any bold shape will do, but it adds to the effect if the colors and shapes are familiar and recognizable.

We first used a small studio softbox to light our oil and water. If you don’t have this type of equipment, you can get similar results with different types of electroluminescent devices, including a computer monitor!

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Oil and water photography installation

(Image credit: James Paterson / Digital Camera World)

01 Light template
For this to work, you will need a colored material to place on top of your light. Any shape, pattern or color will work – we used a Union Jack flag. You will also need to create a cardboard stencil large enough to accommodate your light source.

02 Light source
We used a studio flash and a softbox. If you don’t have one, you can make your own light box; cut out one side of a box and attach your flag or colorful material. Then shine a lamp or speed light through a hole in the opposite side of the box.

03 Oil on water
For this effect, you will need a large dark container, such as a baking sheet. Then fill it with water and add a few drops of cooking oil. Each drop will create beautiful reflections, so be ready to start shooting. If the oil starts to clump, give it a little swirl.

04 macro lens
A macro lens allows us to get close to the surface of the water. If you don’t have one, don’t worry – any lens that lets you zoom in with a short minimum focus distance will do. Try using manual focus to get sharp pictures.

Step by step

(Image credit: James Paterson / Digital Camera World)

01 Flash settings

A large set of stock settings for the flash indoors is: manual mode, 1/200 sec, f / 11, ISO100. After that, we can adjust the strength of the light to suit our exposure ideally. Position the camera directly in front of the light source and at a similar height, so that it can capture the wide range of colorful reflections.

(Image credit: James Paterson / Digital Camera World)

02 Intelligent use of light

A studio flash head means we can use a low ISO for maximum image quality and a high f-number for increased depth of field. The modeling light is also very convenient for focusing. If you don’t have a studio flash, you can use a flash, an LED, a powerful household light, or potentially even your smartphone.

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(Image credit: James Paterson / Digital Camera World)

03 Ripples in water

If you want, you can try adding ripples and drops to the water. Simply place a spoon or similar utensil in the water and focus on the base of it. Lift it out of the water, being careful to hold it directly over the point of focus. Then capture the moment when the drops fall from the spoon and hit the water. A tripod is handy here, as it frees your hands to focus the lens and hold the spoon.

Alternative configurations

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(Image credit: James Paterson / Digital Camera World)
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(Image credit: James Paterson / Digital Camera World)

Colorful oily summaries

You can use all kinds of light sources for this, even a computer screen or a tablet screen. We positioned the oil and water in front of a monitor, then did a simple circular gradient in Photoshop. Of course, even with the brightness at maximum, a monitor screen is not as powerful as a flash, so we needed a high ISO and a large aperture. As for the shutter speed, we can go down to maybe 1/8 sec and use a tripod. But be sure to wait until the water is calm and use a self-timer so you don’t disturb the camera when you press the shutter button.

Kit needed: Oil and water, monitor or any other digital screen, tripod
Exposure: 1 / 8sec, f / 5, ISO4000

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(Image credit: James Paterson / Digital Camera World)
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(Image credit: James Paterson / Digital Camera World)

X marks the spot

In addition to the colored materials, we could also try to cut out a shape to suit our light source. We made an X-shaped hole in a piece of cardboard and then fitted it snugly over our softbox, making sure that light couldn’t escape around the edges. It’s worth experimenting with the angle of the light source and the height of your camera. If we raise the light higher, we can raise our camera for a more pronounced viewing angle on the container. This brings us more directly to the surface of the water, which means more of the oil drops on the surface become sharp.

Kit needed: Flash, cardboard, scissors, tape
Exposure: 1/200 s, f / 11, ISO 100

Read more:

The best macro lenses: get closer to your subjects like never before!
The best photography lighting kits: for the studio, location and video
The best lighting kits for home studio or location photography


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