The water droplet is the quintessential cliché of high-speed photography. Any Internet search will produce a dizzying number of bursting and rippling liquid surfaces. Yet in the right hands, even the familiar can be extraordinary. Markus Reugels, a German amateur photographer who has perfected the theme, has produced an exhaustive catalog of his favorite subject captured in every conceivable, fleeting pose.
What began as an ordinary domestic exercise—taking pictures for the family album—has become a "lovely hobby," involving many hours of trial and error using instructions gleaned from the Internet. Although he dabbles in other wildlife photography, his primary focus has been water drops—or, more precisely, the collision of water drops dyed in contrasting colors. The various effects and shapes are achieved by modulating the time between the two drops: At 6 drops per second, hat-like shapes form; at 10 drops per second, mushrooms; and at 15, flying saucers.
Reugels thickens the water with guar gum to create the consistency of milk or cream. "This helps to make smoother shapes, and they hold longer before they collapse," he says. His equipment consists of a Sony A700 SLR camera with a macro lens, an old Vivitar 285 flash, and an Arduino-based microcontroller timing device called a Glimpse Catcher. Although he removes sensor spots and minor splashes, Reugels maintains that he does not manipulate the images in Photoshop.
For those interested in giving the technique a whirl, Reugels recommends using a plastic bag with a small hole, a tripod, and a remote trigger. Set an external flash (preferably an external one) lower than 1/16. "With such settings, the flash duration is higher than 1/16,000," he tells Co.Design. "This is the reason why the shutter speed is not important. The action in high-speed photography is frozen by the light, not by the shutter."
Reugels hopes to break into commercial photography, though he doesn’t anticipate abandoning his water-drop experiments. "I want to manage one genre very good," he writes, "and not many half-hearted."