Some things are practically guaranteed to make great photo subjects – dewdrops in the grass sparkling like diamonds in the morning sun, flowers and foliage wet with the rain, a closeup of dewdrops suspended in spiderweb-like pearls on a string or the crystal-ball look of a drop with a refracted image inside. You can seek out such scenes in nature, or you can create your own miniature macro world. However you do it, dewdrop photography will test your skills plus give you the reward of pleasing images, not everyone can make. So let’s take a look at what, where, and how to “dew it.”
I’ve spent more than a few mornings lying in the grass with a macro lens mounted on my camera searching for the perfect dewdrop. I’ve also been out after the rain, looking for images where the drops have added a clean, fresh look with increased saturation to a subject. While often the subjects are found in nature, drops beaded on the surface of a freshly waxed car and other human-made objects can make for some great shots too.
Hunting for such subjects is fun. Like much of photography, it’s a matter of getting out with your camera when the conditions are right, often early in the morning in the case of dew or right after a rain shower. Sometimes you’ll find some great subjects where the drops, the light, and the subject all come together. I’ve not yet made the classic dew-drop-festooned-spider-web shot, but I’m still looking. Luck plays a certain part in getting such shots. The fun is in the search. But sometimes when you want to leave it less to chance, that could be the time to…
Fake it to make it
You realize in those great movie rain scenes it wasn’t really raining when filming took place, right? So is it cheating when we as artistic photographers “enhance” our shots with the addition of raindrops or dewdrops? I think not. I guarantee the photographer created the vast majority of great dewdrop photos you’ve seen. Take two otherwise identical flower photos; the only difference being one is covered with dewdrops. The wet one will win the prize almost every time.
Drops sparkle, shimmer, refract light in interesting ways, and can take an image from “meh” to “wow!” So if you haven’t already done so, consider adding a little spray bottle to your camera kit with some “magic juice” inside.
You can often use plain water to enhance your shot. If you’re simulating raindrops that might work okay. Spraying the foliage with the garden hose often works too. But when you want smaller, more rounded beads that hang where you place them and stay for a longer time without moving or evaporating, get some glycerine.
Often found in the baking section of the grocery store, glycerin is very transparent, much thicker than water, and just plain works better for photography. Use it straight from the bottle and apply where you like with an eyedropper, or mix one-part glycerine to two parts water for use in a spray bottle.
You can enhance the look of flowers and foliage, simulate condensation on glassware or other objects, give subjects a wet-look, enhance your food photography or even simulate sweat on human subjects if you need that look. Great stuff!
For more distant shots of things like raindrops, you might get by with standard, close-focusing lenses and also be able to work hand-held. But dewdrops are tiny. When it’s time to get close, closer, and ultra-close, you’ll be entering the world of macro photography. You will definitely need a tripod and one of several ways to get up close to your tiny subject:
Standard Macro Lenses
Many lenses may state they have macro capability, but to truly be a macro lens, they should be able to create a 1:1 image. That means the image rendered on the camera sensor is the same size as the physical object or bigger. Full-frame cameras are called that because their sensor size is roughly equivalent to a full-frame of 35mm film, (24mm X 36mm), so if the lens you’re using can fill the frame with an object that’s about 35mm wide, it’s a true macro.
Here’s a quick test you can try: a U.S. quarter is 24.26mm in diameter. So, if you can focus on and fill the frame top to bottom with an uncropped shot of a quarter, you have a macro lens. On a crop sensor camera where the sensor is 14.9×22.2mm (Canon), a 1:1 shot of a quarter would more than fill the frame.
Increasing the distance between your lens and camera sensor will have the effect of allowing you to focus closer than with the lens alone and thus appear to magnify the image. Stacking multiple tubes or making the bellows longer will get you in even closer. You can also get into macro territory with something simple like a 50mm prime lens plus an extension tube set. Much less money than a dedicated macro lens!
Mount a lens backward on your camera and you will be able to get in much, much closer than you would otherwise. I did a whole article on this technique which allows you to use even inexpensive old film camera lenses for great macro effects.
Working with tiny subjects and macro lens techniques, you will quickly find your depth of field is sliver-thin, sometimes only a few millimeters. Often rather than trying to focus as usual, (and forget about using auto-focus when making shots like this), physically moving the camera forward or back is the way to focus.
A focusing rail is a finely-geared device which, with the use of knobs, allows you to move the camera in and out in tiny increments. Like most camera gear, you can spend a lot on the sophisticated rails, and there are even computer-controlled versions for doing macros that focus-stack.
If you’re just entering the world of macro however, very serviceable versions can be had for under $50.00 US.
With your lens so close to your subject, you will often be in your own light, and shading your subject. There are many ways to light macro subjects and no single “right” way. It’s simply a matter of what works.
Do you know that things like extension tubes and bellows reduce the light reaching the sensor? Most often, you will be stopping down your lens, seeking more depth of field. Adding more light or increasing the exposure time will often be required. One advantage of the latter is that a several second exposure can sometimes allow you to “light-paint” your subject.
I did many of the really close-up images in this article that way. I light-painted during the exposure with a simple LED flashlight.
In practice – a look at some samples
The following images show a tabletop session with glycerin “dewdrops” hanging from a strand of sewing thread. I used a combination of a macro lens (a Tamron AF 90mm f/2.8 Di mounted on a Canon 6D camera), as well as a combination of extension tubes and a reversed old Vivitar 28-105mm zoom from my old Pentax ME Super film camera.
Some of the images used a combination of those devices stacked together in a quest to see just how close I could get.
Bear in mind that the drops in the shot are really tiny, around 2-3mm, so filling the frame with a single drop was way more than a 1:1 magnification ratio. If calculating the magnification factor is your bag, there are places with calculation tools to do that. For example, for one image I used all my extension tubes, (a Kenko set with 12, 20, and 36mm tubes plus a Canon 25mm tube = total 93mm extension) and a Canon 50mm f/1.8 “nifty 50” prime. Per the calculator, that produced about a 2:1 magnification ratio, filling the frame with about 3 of the drops. I achieved the closest shot (below), with the reversed Vivitar at 28mm with the three Kenko tubes attached. I figure it’s over 3:1, uncropped and almost filling the frame with a single drop.
Take note of how in the images the drop acts like a tiny lens, refracting and inverting the image inside it. If you want the image inside to be right-side-up, be sure to invert the real physical object before you snap the shot. Also, with such limited depth of field, even a small aperture may not give you the range of focus you need. Making shots like this will also give you a reason to learn focus-stacking techniques.
The captions on the shots reveal what I used to achieve each dewdrop photography image. So, see what you can learn here, get your camera, maybe buy some entry-level macro gear and then… just go “dew” it!
Share the images you make with us in the comments section!