Tag Archives: Settings

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.

Shooting very long night exposures

Lights from any building generate a surprising amount of light at night.

“The Compleat Angler” – This hotel, pictured from Marlow Bridge, Buckinghamshire UK generates a surprising amount of light. Click image to view large.

Shooting by moonlight or other dim lights

It’s true. You can shoot in almost total dark with a digital camera. You make exposures of many minutes and use really dim lights – the moon, stars and low-level hand-held lights are enough for the camera to pick up.


In other articles about night photography we looked at Planning and Preparing for a Night Shoot and Out on a Night Shoot – Night Composition. We also looked at Six things you must know for night shoots including the basics of controlling the camera and the sort of settings used. It is worth following up on these articles before proceeding.

Night light

Out of town, away from the urban lights, dark is really dark! Many urban dwellers don’t realise that unless the moon and stars are out our eyes are pretty poor in complete dark. Yet, when the moon is out, and the stars, we can see pretty well. In fact our eyes are not well adapted to this darkness. However, the digital camera can pick up amazingly small amounts of light. In the photograph above the EXIF data is…

Model – Canon EOS 5D Mark II
ExposureTime – 10 seconds
FNumber – 11
ExposureProgram – Manual control
ISOSpeedRatings – 100
Flash – Flash not fired
FocalLength – 25 mm
ExposureMode – Manual
White Balance – Manual – Cloudy
SceneCaptureType – Standard

Ten seconds is a reasonable time with all that light knocking around. Remember that an exposure is like filling a bucket with water. As light enters the camera it fills the exposure, making it brighter and brighter as the shutter is open longer. So, in very low light situations you can take photos with very long exposures.

One thing to consider is how to set the length of exposure. Most cameras cannot time your exposure if it is going to be longer than thirty seconds. You can buy automatic ‘intervalometers’ – devices which count intervals of time. They will be able to set your camera off for longer exposures than thirty seconds. However, on the camera there is normally a setting called ‘bulb‘. This will allow you to time a period yourself and close the camera shutter when you are ready. You can find out more about the bulb setting (B setting) in: What is the ‘Bulb’ Setting?

The video

In the following video, Mark Wallace takes us through the process of taking a photograph by moonlight. He is using a two minute exposure. Besides nearly getting eaten by coyotes (OK I exaggerate) he gets some well lit shots. Remember he is out in the country where there are no lights and is just using the ambient moon/star light.

Uploaded by snapfactory External link - opens new tab/page on May 1, 2011

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Six things you must know for a night shoot

Night photography is fun. A little foreknowledge makes your night shoot easy

Night photography is fun. A little foreknowledge helps make it easy

Night shoots can yield great images with a little thought.

There are a few things that will help you get better results. Understand your equipment, ensure you have a steady base, work with your settings. After that it’s about your photographic skills.

1. Before your shoot

Plan ahead for your night shoot. A little thought about night composition is useful. Consider your safety too. In the dark it’s easy to injure yourself, break equipment and lose things. These two articles will help to prepare you:
Preparing for a Night Shoot
Out on a Night Shoot – Night Composition

2. Equipment

You will need to use longer exposures on a night shoot. This means that to get a sharp image you should use a tripod. Most night exposures in an urban environment are from about two seconds to about 30 seconds. Some could be much longer than that, especially if you are outside urban areas where there is little light pollution.

You cannot get a sharp image hand-holding your camera for extended exposure periods. Tripods provide a stable platform at at any time. At night they are essential. If you don’t have a tripod there are alternatives, although I have not found any as effective and flexible as a good tripod.

You can use any of your ordinary day equipment on a night shoot. Lenses, cameras and even flash can be used with no problem. However, you may need to use your equipment in very different ways to the daytime. Also, be prepared to get very different results. You will need to experiment to get familiar with your equipment in night conditions.

You can’t use a Flash-light (torch) when you are shooting, it will affect your local light conditions and the shots you take. Switching a torch on and off will also cause night blindness. You have wait while your eyes adjust to the change in light levels each time. You can get away with a red-light LED torch. I have one that I can wear on my head and it has a red and white light. Red lights don’t spoil your night vision so much. They do affect the shot. So don’t forget to turn them off when shooting.

It’s best to work with the ambient light if you can, especially in urban areas. Using your equipment at night requires that you have a finger touch familiarity. You will probably be surprised if you have been using your camera a lot. You may know many of the buttons by touch anyway. However, some buttons you may not know. Practice builds familiarity.

3. Anti-vibration compensation

One button you may not be familiar with is the one to turn on/off vibration compensation motors. These motors, usually in your lens, help stabilise your shots (Canon: Image Stabilisation; Nikon: Vibration Reduction). They help reduce movement from hand-shake. On a tripod the motor causes vibration which is amplified by the tripod – making the situation worse. This is not just a night shoot trick to reduce vibration, it should be used any time you are using a tripod. It helps your image to be sharper if you reduce anything that causes vibration or movement.

4. Auto-focus (AF) and Manual focus (MF)

At night it is quite likely AF will not work. It might appear to be ‘hunting’ for a focus but not find it. Don’t worry! If you focus on the margin between a light and dark spot it will work again. AF works by detecting contrasts. Anyway, it is better to turn off AF and use MF. Manual focus is much more precise at night. It also stops the lens from ‘hunting’ for a focus point.

5. Flash

Think about how you want to use your flash. If you are using auto-settings your flash may fire when you don’t want it to go off. Read your manual to find out how to turn it off. You will also find a way to change the light intensity of your flash. On-camera flash is a particularly poor tool at night and is very difficult to use to any effect at all. My advice is turn it off for your night shoot work. If you must use flash, consider off-camera flash. Now that IS fun!

In general, you don’t need flash on a night shoot for general shots. In an urban environment the lights are sufficient from the streets. However, the length of your exposure could be very long. You might usefully use off-camera flash to manually fire to illuminate something, a statue, a tree, a car… whatever. The pattern of flashes you fire will determine your local lighting. In the dark flash will only effectively light a small area around where it is fired. So, don’t expect it to light up your whole shot. There will be an article later on night-lighting shots.

6. Settings for a night shoot

If you are using auto-settings on a night shoot you will have problems. There may be a night-mode setting on your camera. Don’t expect to get great results with it. Best results come with manually setting the camera up yourself while doing a night shoot. You should consult your manual if you really want to use pre-programmed settings.

Learn how to use manual settings from the start. A night shoot is great fun. Getting the results you want makes it really worthwhile. Use ‘M’ – manual mode. This is the only certain way to get the results you want. Remember, the length of the exposure is the critical setting on a night shoot. You will be working with long exposures all the time. The shutter may be open between a tenth of a second through to, well, possibly hours. It’s more likely you will start with settings of around 1 to 30 seconds. After 30 seconds you will need to change to the ‘B’ or bulb mode setting on DSLRcameras.

Long exposures are like filling a bucket with water. Over time the bucket gradually fills up. Over a long exposure light fills the shot making it brighter and brighter. Even moderate local lights may overwhelm areas of your long exposure with brightness. However, without a longer exposure you will not get enough light for the darker areas of the scene. Here are some basic pointers.

  • A wide Aperture lets in more light (settings around f4 or less are wide open). You will have a lot of bokeh in the background with a wide aperture. To avoid that you will need a longer exposure (and a narrower aperture).
  • A high ISO will permit faster exposures. High ISO settings will create a lot of digital noise in the final image. To avoid that you should use low ISO and a longer exposure.
  • Longer exposures (shutter speed or time value) give you greater clarity and a wider depth of field in your shot. However, the camera will be much more vulnerable to vibration. (Tripod – remember?).

You will need to adjust your settings to create the correct exposure. If you have not used manual settings before you should consider this simple set up…
(Assumption: urban environment at night, some street lights and other lighting)
– Set ISO to 100 (Low ISO will give low noise – the best quality image).
– Set aperture to f8 for close focus. Landscapes/long focus, use f14.
– Set Time value (shutter speed) to about two seconds.
Now take a shot and check the screen to see what it is like (“Chimping”)
Black? Too dark? – OK, turn the shutter speed on one click and try again, and again, until your shot looks right.
In fact the internal light meter will show you when the exposure is correct. When you push the release button half way, the needle in the bottom of the viewfinder (DSLR) will be centred.

A little experimental work with longer or shorter shutter speeds will give you an opportunity to try out a few shots. Having a go is the best way to move forward with night shots. Everyone messes up quite a lot of shots to start with until you get the feel for the correct exposure. It’s really rewarding when it goes right! Have fun…

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.