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Macro Photography Techniques: Flowers in Water Droplets

Taking macro photographs of water droplets requires lots of patience. It's so hard to get an image of a water droplet turn out the way you want it to, but your EOS camera offers plenty of useful functions to help. Let’s take a look at some secrets to capturing the reflection of a flower within a water droplet, as well as a technique for creating a starburst effect around it. (Reported by: Miki Asai, Digital Camera Magazine)

FL: 28mm (45mm equivalent)/ Aperture-priority AE (f/3.5, 1/25 sec, EV ±0)/ ISO 640/ WB: Daylight

I took this shot while holding a remote control in one hand and external lighting in my other. To capture the waves in the moving water and ensure a sharp shot, I set my camera on a high ISO speed, mounted it onto a tripod and used a slow shutter speed of 1/25 sec. It was raining quite heavily so I made use of a shower cap to prevent the camera from getting wet.


Scenario 1: Making the water droplets look sharper

Concept: You don’t need a very wide aperture to get good bokeh during close-up shooting

The closer you get to your subject, the shallower the depth of field and the more intense the background bokeh. However, if you shoot at maximum aperture, the depth of field will become too shallow. Even if you place focus on the flower reflection, the outline of the water droplet will appear blurred although the flower will be sharp.

Here, I narrowed the aperture to f/9 using Aperture-priority AE mode to get a larger depth of field, and adjusted the camera until the edges of the water droplets were captured sharply.

FL: 28mm (45mm equivalent)/ Aperture-priority AE (f/9, 1/40 sec, EV -0.7)/ ISO 500/ WB: Daylight

In order to focus on two water droplets, you need to position the lens at exactly the same distance from both droplets. I tried holding my breath when taking the picture as the water droplets would fall immediately if the flower petals were to be moved by even a millimetre.

If the aperture is too wide, the water droplet will not stand out



In macro photography, because you are shooting so close, the depth of field is naturally shallow: you don’t need a very wide aperture to create significant bokeh and achieve good subject-background separation. Feel free to narrow the aperture so that the main subject is more sharply in focus.

Useful function 1: Touch Shutter

In macro photography, there are two things that can prevent you from achieving a sharp shot:

i) The shallower depth of field even at narrower apertures, which can make it tricky to achieve focus.
ii) Reduced light due to shooting so close. This causes the shutter speed to slow, increasing the chances of camera shake.

The Touch Shutter, available during Live View shooting, can resolve both issues: One tap on the touchscreen focuses on area and captures the shot at the same time. It’s not only more intuitive, it also avoids the camera shake that could occur when you press the shutter button.

Useful function 2: AF Frame Size - 'Small'

On recent EOS mirrorless cameras and in the Live View mode on newer EOS DSLR cameras, you can set the [AF Frame Size] to [Small]. This lets you set focus even more precisely, such as on the flower reflected in the water droplet. 

FL: 28mm (45mm equivalent)/ Aperture-priority AE (f/7.1, 1/6 sec, EV ±0)/ ISO 400/ WB: Daylight

The flower was not in good condition, so it took some effort to compose the image. Because it wasn’t possible to change the angle of the petals, I set my camera on a tilt after mounting it onto a tripod. I was using a wide angle macro lens, the EF-M28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM, which resulted in some space in the background. That space was easily filled by placing two flowers at the back.

Normal AF frame size: Blurred flower

If the [AF Frame Size] is set to [Normal], the frame will be too large. As a result, the camera focuses on the edges of the water droplet instead of the flower reflection, causing the latter to appear blurred.

Shooting procedure

1. Press the MENU button.
2. Set [Touch Shutter] to [Enable].
3. Set [AF Frame Size] to [Small].

4. Magnify the image in Live View and touch the screen to take the picture.

Tip: When shooting, set the camera to its closest focusing distance. Take care when doing so, because if the lens touches the flower or water droplet, you will need to redo everything.



Scenario 2: Starbursts on multiple water droplets

Concept: Focusing occurs on a plane, not on one point

FL: 28mm (45mm equivalent)/ Aperture-priority AE (f/11, 1/25 sec, EV +0.3)/ ISO 400/ WB: Daylight

When you focus on one thing, everything along the same plane will also be in focus. To put multiple water droplets in sharp focus, make sure they are the same distance from the camera: line them up in a straight line parallel to your lens. Once the water droplets are in focus, place the light source diagonally behind them.

Fun fact: Tilt-shift lenses allow you to change the focal plane so that it's not parallel to the lens. Find out more here.

The angle of light affects the colours captured—find the one that flatters the flower the most! Then, set the camera to a narrow aperture such as f/11. As the camera captures light rays reflected off from the water droplets, starbursts will appear on the outlines.

Tip: Use white paper as a reflector to even out the lighting on the subject.

Useful function: MF peaking

When you want to capture multiple water droplets clearly, manual focusing will give you more control. MF peaking tints edges that are in focus in a specific colour, so that you know how much to adjust your focus.

Shooting procedure

1. Set the focus mode to MF.
2. Press the MENU button.
3. In the [4] tab of the shooting menu, select [MF Peaking Settings], and then set [Peaking] to [On].

4. Turn the focusing ring until colours appear on the edges of the water droplets.

Bonus tip: To create starbursts, you need external lighting

This was shot with a reflector to even out the lighting. Without a strong light source, starbursts will not be produced.


For more macro photography tips and ideas, check out:
Macro Photography Technique: Creating the Illusion of Space and Depth
How to Photograph Water Droplets that Sparkle!
Mouth-watering Macro: The Art of Close-up Food Photography


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Miki Asai

Miki Asai

Born in Obihiro, Hokkaido. While working as a company employee, she would get her hands on a camera to shoot small objects after finishing work and on her days off. In 2013, she bought the DSLR that she had been longing for and started shooting. One day, she was moved by the morning dew that she saw on a leaf through a macro lens the sight of which was “more beautiful than any gem”. It struck her then that she wanted to photograph the small and beautiful world which exists everywhere but is easily missed and hard to see with the naked eye. Since then, she has continued with her style of photography in pursuit of her goal.