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1. Use a macro lens. In an ideal world, each of us would have a DSLR with a dedicated macro lens—say a 100mm macro, my personal favorite—to help us get great sharp shots of really tiny subjects. A macro lens isn’t a necessity for making cool photos of water droplets, but it sure does help. You can fill the frame with a single droplet using a macro lens, or capitalize on the flat field of focus to make really sharp images of a wider array of droplets. If you don’t have a dedicated macro lens, consider a zoom lens with a macro focusing capability. And failing that, if you’ve only got a point-and-shoot with which to work, look for the macro setting before you start making close-ups of water drops.
2. Treat droplets as lenses and mirrors. That means look through a water drop to treat it as a lens, photographing the world as reflected through the droplet. It’s a great way to create interesting, playful images. As with any clear subject, you’re photographing the background and its illumination as much as you’re photographing the clear object itself—so keep an eye on the background. You can also use water drops as mirrors, photographing the world that’s reflected on their shiny surfaces. Since droplets themselves are round, they can easily reflect a 180-degree field of view—like a brightly colored sky. If you happen to be photographing droplets falling into a pool or puddle of water, take care to pay attention to the world reflected in the surface of the water—which acts a lot like a mirror on its own.
3. Work with pattern and repetition. Nobody said you could only shoot one water droplet at a time. Why not back off from the extreme closeup and photograph a wide field of water drops? Maybe the pattern of droplets on a windshield or screen door might make for an extremely interesting image. As a bonus, you might not need a lens with macro capability to make this kind of droplet image.
4. Make your own. You don’t have to wait for a rainy day to photograph drops of water. You can always spray a surface with a water bottle, or just sprinkle water on the surface of something else you’re interested in photographing. The bonus here is that you can have more control over the scene when you’re creating water droplets yourself. In fact, now that I think about it, who says they have to be drops of water? Milk white or bright red drops could be very interesting to photograph too. As long as you’re making the drops yourself, why not experiment with colorful liquids?
5. Shoot drops in motion. Instead of photographing the drop after its come to rest, consider photographing a droplet as it’s splashing on a surface. Whether it’s water or steel, the surface on which the splash occurs can be just about anything. And you can photograph the splashes in motion with long shutter speeds to create motion blurs, or very short ones to stop the drops in time. You can even consider using very high shutter speeds or specialized strobe equipment for photographing drops that are almost impossible to see with the naked eye. Even if you don’t have a specialized high-speed flash setup, you can fake it adequately with a handheld strobe. Simply set the flash to its lowest power so that the burst of light will have the shortest duration possible, increasing your chances of a perfectly sharp droplet in motion. However you do it, just be careful: water and electronics don’t mix—at least, not well. Be safe and keep your water and your electricity far apart while you’re shooting.