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Interview With Water Droplet Photographer Markus Reugels

Find out more about the work of Markus Reugels, water droplet photographer extraordinare.

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We recently spoke to Markus Reugels, a water drop photography enthusiast. Find out more about him and his work below. 

Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into photography?

My Name is Markus Reugels, I'm 37 years old, father of 2 children and work in parquet layers.

I started getting into photography about 7 years ago. I wanted to take good pictures for the family album but with time, it grew into a lovely hobby. My favourite genre macro photography, especially high-speed photography. With it I can show the beautiful things we don't usually get to see in life, that we are not able to see with our eyes alone. 

To balance the technical aspects of the high-speed pictures, I also love to work with old m42 lenses and capture flowers or insects. 

All I know about photography is self-thought; I read a lot on the internet and bought books about lighting. When I have fun with something, I take the time to learn how to do it properly. Most of the images I capture must be tested with "trial and error" but I think this is the way you can improve your skills. Another point is that I focus on one genre, I take mainly macro images and not every genre as I want to be very good at one genre rather than dabble in many half-heartedly.

 

When and how did you discover water droplet photography?

With the birth of my son (about 7 years ago), I bought my first DSLR camera. Up to this point, I had a simple point and shoot camera, where there was no need to use the settings of shutter speed, ISO and so on.

To learn how these settings work, I read a lot on the internet, in communities and so forth. This way, I can also take a look at the photos other members have captured. I saw a simple water drop image, where there was just a drop in midair and the water was full of ripples. It was so great, that I wanted to do it myself.

Markus Reugels

 

Is it something that anyone can have a go at? do you need any specific kit?

The Basic “Drop on Drop” images can be done with an eye dropper or medicine kit and a lot of patience. But to realise such complex shapes, you need a timing device - where you can set all the parameters to the one split second where you want to capture the image.

At the moment, I work with the StopShot Studio or the Glimpsecatcher, both are very precise and have enough outputs/inputs. But they are only technical helpers; they give you only the key to realise it. You actually need a lot of knowledge and patience to bring the image out of your head and into reality.

Also, you need flashes where the flash duration is above 1/160000 to freeze the fast motion of the splash and a very good SD Card that's fast too. I use the PNY Elite Performance with 100MB/s read/ write speed. 

 

Talk us through how you set up and produce a water droplet image.

For the basic images where I use only 3-4 valves ( Solenoid valves), I don't make any sketches before shooting. But when I work with up to seven valves with lots of different elements in the image, I make a sketch of what can be possible with all the different elements; like water jets, air stream, shooting a jet of water or pellet and so on. Working on such complex images is a challenge. At first I don’t want to clutter the image with too many elements as everything must work together - the colours, shapes and composition of the whole image.

The most important part is the lighting and colour combination. So I start with the setup of the light, and then I prepare the setup for the wanted image.

No two images are ever the same as the water creates different shapes which can make images I have in my mind difficult to capture. I can only work with what I have, adjusting the timings and tweaking the given shapes to make it as close as possible to what I imagined.

 

Which substances work best - just water or things like milk and oil?

Normally I thicken my drop water with guar gum to increase the viscosity. I want a similar viscosity as milk or cream. This helps to make smoother shapes and they hold longer together before they collapse. Sometimes I use only milk and this is the best fluid for creating droplets. You can also introduce colour into the splash with light when using milk by fitting coloured gels to flashes. Water splashes with oil won't work and the clean out of the equipment is too much work.

 

Do you have a favorite photographer or someone that inspired you to carry on with photography?

In the beginning, I had Corrie White as inspiration for my water drops, but now I'm at a point where I don't look to other people's work for inspiration. Sometimes I get ideas from my son, such as when he's in the bath playing with tubes and other things in the water to create shapes. my wife has great ideas too, such as creating a splash inside a tulip blossom or a mushroom shape in a real mushroom.

 

Markus Reugels

What draws you to macro work?

With a camera, you can make small things very big and freeze the motion of a split second into a photo. You can really see the beauty of the unseen with macro photography.

 

If you had 3 top tips for someone wanting to make a start in droplet photography, what would they be?

You can start with a simple bag with a small hole in it, a tripod and remote trigger. As for the light, an external flash, which can be regulated manually, is the best option. You must set the power of the flash lower than 1/16 to get sharp pictures and with such settings, the flash duration is higher than 1/16000 hence why the shutter speed is not important.  The action in high-speed photography is frozen by the light and not by the shutter speed.

A good tip is to catch the falling drops with a cup and move the cup out of the way when you're ready to shoot. Then you have a still water surface and you can control the timing of the trigger better rather than relying on luck.

The basic "Drop on Drop" technique works with 2 drops. The first drop falls into the water and forms a crater, then a crown and finally the pillar. The second drop must be timed so that it lands on the pillar and with the collision it forms shapes like mushrooms, hats or flying discs.

The middle drop speed is about 10 drops per second which create mushroom shapes. With 15 drops per second comes the flying shapes and with 6 drops per second the hats. When the distance between the first and the second drop gets bigger, the shape goes into a flying disc and when the distance gets lower, the shape turns more into a hat shape.

To get smooth shapes with less sprinkles around them, I increase the viscosity with guar gum. It's more work to mix the water and filter the grain out, but the results are worth the work.

The most important thing to think about in this genre of photography is light; I take lots of care with light. Before I start dropping, I always set the light up perfectly as a good shape will look terrible in bad lighting so do pay close attention to it. 

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