How to photograph bubbles from the side – water photography

Bubbles are fun to photograph and there is infinite variation

Bubbles photography is fun with infinite variation – plenty of scope for creativity.

Water and its properties are endlessly fascinating.

It is quite easy to get started with water projects. Some simple household items are all that’s needed. In this tutorial we will look at how to create bubble shots like the image shown.

What you need

All you need are some simple items. A square, clear-glass container is the most important, for holding the water. Some people use a small fish tank. I used a square glass vase. It helps to have a flat side – the focus is easier. However, with some experiments you can make most glass items work. The other items are:

  • A thin flexible tube for blowing the bubbles (1 meter).
  • Food colouring.
  • Some dish washing detergent.
  • A clothes peg (clothes pin).
  • A sheet of white card, paper, or a white wall.
  • One bright lamp.
  • A tripod or firm platform to place your camera.
How its done

We are aiming to create some pretty surface bubbles. So fill the container to about half full with fresh tap water. Then…

  1. Add a few drops (3 or 4) of food colouring of your colour choice.
  2. Place the container on a table so you can photograph through it.
  3. Behind the container place the card to provide a solid white surface as a backdrop for the shot. You will need a gap between the water container and card of about 500mm to a meter (18inches to a yard).
  4. Place the lamp to the side, but pointing at the white backdrop, between the container and the backdrop itself. The idea is to create a bright background for the shot. The card acts as a white reflector to create a high key effect.
  5. Place the tube in the water and push it to the bottom of the container. Fix it to the side of the container with the clothes peg so it stays in place.
  6. Now, add the drops of detergent. Too much and the bubbles will fill the container. Too little and they will not form. So you may need to experiment. You create the bubbles by blowing down the tube. As air passes up through the water it creates the bubbles.
  7. Position your camera on the tripod, pointing at the flat side of the container. Blow some bubbles. Focus the camera and take a test shot. View the shot. Your focus is critical. If you focus too far into the container you will get a lot of bubbles. So try to focus just on the bubbles on the side of the glass. It is best to work with only a few bubbles rather than a lot. So try with less detergent if you find you have too many.
  8. Adjust the settings to get the light right. Use the flash on your camera if you need to make the shot brighter. However, make sure the lamp behind the container makes the backdrop very bright white too. Getting a bright backdrop is more important than the flash from the front. In fact if you use the flash it may need to be turned to minimum power. Read your manual to find out how.
  9. I shoot with full manual settings. So it is easy for me to adjust the brightness of the shot for the background. You can work with the aperture at something like: f5.6 or f4.0. This prevents the back of the container coming into the focus. However, it does give a frosted effect in the water as the container is out of focus inside. A shallow depth of field makes the foreground focused in the shot. Then the bubbles against the glass come out well. If you can arrange the bubbles so they are at the front against the glass and not at the back you can use a deeper depth of field. In this case apertures of up to f22 will work. You get more clarity in the shot and more of a glow from the water. However, you may need to clone droplets and marks off the glass in post processing – from the front and back of the container.
  10. Shooting with a longer exposure will help your background brightness if your lamp is dim, but try out different lighting and shutter speeds to get it right.
  11. Experiment! The key to all water shots is trying out lots of different things. Different depths of water, different containers, various amounts of liquid detergent, different light levels… all can be varied.
Things to watch out for…

Splashes! The water from the bubbles splash onto the side of the container leaving droplets and these get into the shot. I keep a small cloth to wipe them off after blowing the bubbles, but before I take a shot.

Too much detergent can be a problem, you really do need only a tiny amount. Very few bubbles look better in the shot than thousands. I have found that the shot is improved if you wait for the bubbles to subside a bit after your blowing. Then take the shot.

You want the background to look very bright to give the water a glow. So concentrate light on the white background to bring up the brightness from behind.

You will probably want to take a picture of the whole width of the container. However, in post processing you will probably not keep it all. Be prepared to crop the shot down to the better looking bubbles like I have above.

You do not need to use a macro lens although that can produce great results too. The shot above was taken at around 80mm focal length. It was not a macro shot.

I find that variation in bubble sizes gives more interest. So I have tried to make the bubbles uneven in their shape and size. This helps balance the shot.

You can try out different colour backdrops. I have found that using a gel to colour the light works well. Make sure the light is projected onto the background and does not change the water colour. In the shot above the background is white. In that picture I replaced white with the colour variations above the green water later in post processing.

As a bonus, you can also take pictures of the bubbles rising in the container. To do this blow and shoot at the same time. Make sure you have lots of light from behind and a fast shutter speed to freeze the action. Here is an image showing the water movement from the bubbles.

The bubbles and water movement can be great fun too.

The bubbles and water movement can be great fun too. This image shows the water exploding above the surface when the air is blown through the tube.

3 responses to “How to photograph bubbles from the side – water photography

  1. Hi there!! This is so interesting for me as I have been into bubble photography for about a year now. If you have a second please see what I do on instagram @upyanose or find me on my blog upyanosephotos.blogspot.com