This past week we had some really heavy rains. I had my camera setup so I could photograph birds out of my front window but wasn’t able to do so because of the heavy rain pounding against the window. As things began to clear a bit I decided to try some art photography using the raindrops as a focal point with the subject blurred in the background. I had a very limited subject selection from my front window. The photo on the right is a fence post taken through my front window after the rainstorm.
That got me to thinking that it might be fun to photograph other things using the raindrops on plastic/glass. Unfortunately there just aren’t that many things I can photograph through the windows and it is dependent upon the rain hitting the window just right. I decided it might be fun to try and create some raindrops on a small piece of plastic/glass that I could attach to something and move it around the farm where I could find a variety of subjects.
What you will need
After some thought and a little experimentation I came up with a list of supplies that you will need.
Clear Plastic or a small piece of glass – I needed something to simulate the window glass. For this I already had some things around the house. For the glass I removed the glass from an old picture frame. For the plastic I had a small piece of sheet plastic left over from repairing my bird feeder. The plastic can be purchased at a local box store.
Glycerin -I stopped at my local pharmacy and purchased a small bottle of glycerin. When added to water the glycerin provides greater viscosity so the water adheres to the plastic/glass and keeps its shape.
Distilled Water – I wanted some water without contaminants, we have very hard water, so I used some of my wife’s distilled water.
Post – I needed something to attach the plastic/glass to. I looked around and came up with an electric fence post which was light, had a flat surface to hold the plastic/glass and was easily transportable. I typically use these to hold props for my bird photography so they were handy. The big advantage of them is that they have spike and step-in flange at one end so they are easy to stick into the ground. Since I was going to be shooting in my local prairie area this would allow me to easily move it around and easily adjust the height of the plastic.
Clamps – I also needed something to hold the plastic/glass to the fence post so I grabbed a couple of plastic spring clamps from my shop.
Small Spray Bottle – I found an old medicine spray bottle that was just about empty so I used that. You can also purchase a small spray bottle at your local Walmart.
Small Paint Brush – Used a small 1 1/2 inch paint brush to occasionally brush the water glycerin combination once it was sprayed on the plastic/glass. I did this occasionally to create different patterns.
Paper towels – I kept some paper towels handy to clean up the mess and I used them to handle the plastic/glass so I didn’t get finger prints on it.
Plastic bag – to carry the supplies
Band Aid – I cut myself on the glass.
Camera Gear – I used my Nikon D80s Digital SLR and my Tamron 28-300mm lens as well as my Sigma 150mm macro lens.
What I Found
With all of my supplies in hand I decided to give it a try. I mixed some glycerin with water in my small spray bottle. The amount of glycerin you use will depend upon the effect you want to create. The more glycerin the thicker the mixture on the glass. A mixture of 1/4 glycerin and 3/4 water sprayed on plastic creates nice rain water droplets. You can change the combination to create different effects.
I used the small paint brush drag over the glycerin/water on the plastic. This allowed me to create different effects on the plastic. I initially used my fingers but that got messy in a hurry and I ended up with some glycerin on my camera. Hence the suggestion for using a paint brush and having a paper towel handy.
The subject matter is wide open. I started looking around my yard for subject that might make good photos and have some color. At this point in time the colors were rather limited but I decided flowers would be a good subject. I have a variety of wildflowers booming in my small prairie area around the house. If you can find a combination of flowers with multiple colors it makes for an interesting photograph.
I placed the plastic setup a few feet in front of the flowers. I then sprayed the plastic with enough spray to create the look I wanted. I set the camera at manual focus and opened the aperture to created a small depth of field. I then focused on the raindrops blurring the flowers in the background. I experimented with a variety of combinations of aperture settings, placements of the plastic and distance between the camera and the plastic. The photo on the right shows the complete setup and the photo on the left shows the plastic clamped to the electric fence post.
One of the problems you need to deal with is reflections. I tried to photograph on a cloudy day to help reduce reflections. Since I normally photograph flowers on overcast days this worked out well. Unfortunately the weather didn’t always cooperate and what started out cloudy sometimes turned into bright sunshine. I also discovered that wearing dark clothing without any logos or writing on it helps so that if there is a reflection it produces a uniform reflection that is not distracting and does not appear in the photo.. These tips I brought over from my experiences photographing birds through my windows.
I tried both plastic and glass. Spraying on the different surfaces seemed to produce slightly different effects. Both worked. I was concerned about the glass breaking when I took it out in the field. It was also a little heavier than the plastic. The plastic won’t break but it scratches very easily so you will need to protect it. I ended up using the plastic because it is very portable, not likely to break and I can’t cut myself on it.
This project is best done on a day when the wind is not blowing since the plastic or glass tends to move around when using the electric fence post. If you use something more substantial you won’t have as much of a problem. I found that I could move the setup around and the water/glycerin droplets stayed on the plastic so once I had the effect I wanted I could continue to use it.
I tried a variety of lenses. The photo taken from my front window was taken with a Tamron 200-500mm lens. Outside I used my Tamron 28-300mm telalphoto lens and my Sigma 150mm macro lens. The photo on the right was taken with my Tamron lens and the photo on the left with my macro lens. As I continued to experiment I found I was using my macro lens most of the time. Just remember whichever lens you use you need to open the aperture to create the right depth of field.
That’s all there was too it. The best part is that the setup is portable enough to move around so I can take it along with me to other locations and do some photography. I do a lot of shooting at a local recreation area with a large prairie so I plan on taking my setup on the road. I’ve only begun to experiment with portable raindrops so you will likely see more photos in the future.