Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Oil and water don't mix . . . a tutorial

by Kim


It's a good thing that oil and water don't mix, because photographically speaking it makes for some really interesting photographs! So today, I thought it would be fun to share with you how I made these images.

But, I must warn you....it's addicting!

I originally saw this idea in Bryan Peterson's book "Understanding Exposure." The first time I tried this I used the only basic lens I had (18-135), and then a year later (last year) I tried it again with my 40mm macro lens. It can be done with a basic lens that has the ability to focus fairly closely, but a macro lens or at least extension tubes will give the best results.

Here are some of the results I got . . . my set up and how-to's are after the photos.







Are you ready? Hang on to your britches . . . this, is my fancy set-up!

So as you can see, this is not a difficult set-up, and no need to purchase anything. First, you'll need a clear class pan. It's better if there aren't any impressed markings on the bottom, although mine does have them and I just shot around it. The pan doesn't have to have the handles like mine, you could just elevate from the bottom of it. I used two large plastic glasses to elevate mine on the patio dining table outside. Fill your container with at least two inches of water (here I went half way), but there is no science to this, and then slowly pour in just a little oil (you can always add more later).  

I didn't use my tripod for this for several reasons. Since I was using my 40 mm macro lens I have to be pretty close, closer than what my tripod will let me get. And sometimes the oil moves around and by hand holding my camera I not only could chase them, but I could choose easier where to frame the photo. That brings me to my next suggestion, and that is manual focus. The camera has a really hard time focusing, and it will save you some frustration from the constant hunting and draining of your battery.

For the pattern under my container of water I used some scrapbook paper I had around the house, but just about anything will work that has color or pattern. I used small to medium prints because they showed up better in the bubbles trapped in the oil, like in my very first image. This is just a small sample of some prints I used:

Oh, and who says it has to all be in focus?

It's been a while since I've done this, but I think I may even use one of my own photographs, or even throw some paint on some paper for the next time.

This is a great rainy day project as well. Just use a light source directed onto the paper or into the water, or both.

A recap and some other tips and suggestions:

* I used vegetable oil
* Lukewarm water worked best
* I used my 40 mm macro lens, but experiment with other lenses and extension tubes
* Make sure your glass container is free from lint or you will see it your photos, and it will make you sad
* A windy day if done outside will make you crazy! It will not only blow the oil around but you
   will get all kinds of dirt and things in your water
* Make sure your lens is as parallel as possible to the surface of the water
* Experiment with different size apertures. Since it's all on the same plane of focus most of what it 
   will affect is the background
* Keep your ISO as low as possible to eliminate noise
* You will want to shoot in manual mode and manual focus for better control of your outcome
* If doing this outside, mid-morning sun seemed best
* After a little while the oil will all come together and you can just give it a stir to make different 
   designs. I also used a wooden skewer to poke the middle of an oil drop to get some bubbles
* The bubbles make it a little easier to focus on something
* In the photos that have more bubbles I stirred a little harder 

This is a really fun project that doesn't require anything other than what you already have at home. And if you aren't used to using manual mode or manual focus, this would be great practice.

Okay, ready . . . set . . . go get your oil and water and have fun!! And don't forget to share them with us in our flickr group.


Anonymous said...


Linda said...

This is so fun! I saw this in that book too and thought it was so neat! Your shots would make a nice collage in a girls room! Thanks for sharing this fun idea!

Susan W said...

Really a great set of photos. You're so right about it being fun and it can be a little addicting.

Anonymous said...

I've been meaning to try this. Thanks so much for the great tutorial. You got some awesome results! Very cosmic. ;-)

janice said...

I have seen these oil and water shots before and have always wanted to try, your tutorial is great as are your photos. Hopeful to try this on my day off this week?
Kim, I perused your blog and found it very enjoyable and relaxing. Loved your bee and caterpillar stories:) Beautiful photos and love your texture work.

terriporter said...

Well, I bet you can guess what I'm going to be doing all day! I can't wait to try this! I have admired others' oil and water shots but have never known how they achieved them. Yours are wonderful inspiration and your directions are so complete that I an going to give this a try. Thanks so much for this post.

CarolHart said...

Well how much fun is this! Actually I have seen these types of images before but never attempted them myself. You make it sound so easy that I think I'm gonna have to give it a try. It is a rainy day today so maybe....

Claudia@DipityRoad said...

As you know I think you are UBER talented!! What fun projects. They dont look like something I have ever thought was a photograph. WOW... very very cool!

AFishGirl said...

Wow. I so want to try this. Thanks for sharing all the details!

Dotti said...

It's too bad we can't all get together and have a party to enjoy doing this with each other. Now wouldn't that be fun! Excellent tutorial, fun ideas and I'm on the bandwagon with the others to try this.

Liz said...

WOW!! Oh so clever!! Thanks for the explanation & the images of your set up. I just might have to try it!!

seabluelee said...

This looks like fun! Your results are really beautiful. If you hadn't explained, I'd never have guess what your subject was.

heyjudephotography said...

Gorgeous shots! Love this! I can't wait till I have some time to do this. thanks for sharing Kim.

Moms Who Click said...

I totally want to do this! Great tutorial and the photos are awesome!

Anonymous said...

Your pictures are sooo cool! Love the effect...Thank you for sharing the tutorial.
-Linda (via Groupies of KK Facebook)
PS love the blog.

kelly said...

this is the coolest thing! wow!! thanks for the tutorial and sharing your techniques...something fun to try!

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