A Treatise on High Speed Water Drops with the Fuji X Pro 1 & Voigtlander 75mm f/1.8

How To: Extreme Macro High Speed Photography and the Fuji X Pro 1

The Perfect Bell

Macro photography is hard work.  There are so many technical issues to overcome that you have to be a very patient person with the correct camera equipment.  Now, add in the complexity of HIGH SPEED WATER DROP COLLISIONS to the mix and you are faced with one of the more complex camera and photographic setups and skills necessary to capture great images.  Most people think that water drop photography is purely luck or done with high speed computer controls.  While this statement is partially true, you still have to overcome the normal issues associated with macro photography in the 1:1 image ration realm.  By this I mean that a penny photographed  is the same size as if laid on the camera sensor, hence 1:1!

Bombs Away, Red upper water source, Blue lower!

Macro issues are tough:

  • VERY NARROW Depth Of Field (DOF), with the drop collisions being wider than what the camera can keep sharp.
  • Getting enough light on the subject to artistically present it with depth.
  • Getting the camera lens to focus at 1:1 with enough distance from the drops to keep water from splashing onto the front of the lens.

Now, add in the issues with water drops:

  • The inability of the shutter to stop the motion of the water movement.
  • Setting up several flash units in manual mode for stop action work around 1/120000 second.
  • Controlling the water drops for number and size, interval.
  • Keeping the water drops round and on target.
  • Controlling the flash firing delay to .001 second starting at about .150 second out to .500 second.
  • Setting up the camera shutter speed to allow all of this high speed stuff to happen (which actually requires a long exposure!)
  • Getting all of this without breaking the bank!

There are dozens of articles on the WEB about doing this in your sink with a baggy full of water and a pin hole in the bottom.  This can indeed be a fun experiment, but one that is doomed to failure.  Anyone who actually thinks they might enjoy this ALWAYS move up to some sort of computer controlled water drop machine. A unit that will:

  • Number of Drops
  • Size of Drops
  • Interval between Drops
  • Camera Trigger
  • Flash Trigger
  • Upper Water Tank
  • Computer controlled valve

Now the Camera equipment list:

  • ANY camera with interchangeable lenses.
  • Macro Lens at 1:1 (or the ability to modify an existing lens with extension tubes and/or close up diopter filters)
  • Remote shutter release.
  • 1 to 3 external flash units capable of being set in Manual at 1/64 power with stands.
  • PC flash wiring cables and a 1 to 3 wiring adapter (this is the inexpensive stuff)
  • Colored gels.
  • Difusers, Reflectors, and Colored Glass Sheets.
  • Small STABLE table tripod.
  • Food Coloring
  • Glycerin
  • Dish Soap

The Time Machine

I LOVE water drop photography so I choose a timing controller and a water drop controller from The Time Machine.  It is a small system of 2 small electronic boxes that run on 9v batteries (still on the original battery after a year). There are about 3 companies out there that sell these control systems, but to me, this one was the easiest and lowest in cost. The learning curve is short, but still, you will be required to do your homework and READ THE MANUAL (RTFM).  They even pack a bag of M&M candy in with it and tell you to go sit down, snack and read!

The Complete Setup, Uncluttered

The Drip Kit from the same company provides you with the 2nd box and upper water tank/valve/holder that talks to the Time machine through 1 simple cable.  It is easy to setup and understand! This is what it looks like from the dealer (right). Believe me when I tell you that this is the device that makes high speed water drop photography possible!  The entire kit cost me about $350 and was worth every penny.

My VERY cluttered setup!

OK, now then, here is an image of MY actual setup.  Notice that there is nothing uncluttered about it!  The thing is messy, disorganized and tons of fun!  You could even call it addictive!

TIP: I have also shown in the above image a large BOLT that I place in the lower tray of water, allow the drops to fall on it and use the threads as my focus points!

Did you notice that I am using 2 different colors of water?  Red on top and blue in the bottom tray?  This allows the colors to mix in the resulting collisions and give some very interesting color mixes as shown in the next photograph. For this image I used 2 flashes off to the left and right low on the water.  One was normal white and the one one the right had a red gel attached to further bring out the red colors.  Then I placed a blue & white mottled glass plate beyond the lower pan with the 3rd light positioned behind it with a white piece of paper between the flash and the glass plate! Look at the colors in the water foreground, the collision and the backdrop.  It all comes together!

TIP:  Add a squirt of Glycerin and a SINGLE DROP if liquid JOY soap to the upper water container.  This will give good mushroom caps with attatched drops moving away.  You will also want to add Glycerin to the lower water container along with your food coloring.

Red & Blue water mixing in a collision!

TIP: For the bottom tray, use a NON SHINY BLACK pan.  This will keep the flashes from reflecting back into the lens and not cause the pans colors, writing, or texture to influence the image.

Some people use MILK in the upper water container for some very good and interesting results!  The KEYWORD here is experimentation!

Some Thoughts on Camera Equipment!

Traditionally, I have always used Canon equipment for my water drop photography, but have totally switched now to my Fuji X Pro 1 camera system.  It is smaller, lighter and gives much better images.  I wanted to use my Fuji 60mm F/2 macro lens for this but it had several issues:

  • It was too close to the water drops and was getting covered in water/food color/glycerin.
  • It was subject to a central hot spot (bad one) when using flashes on water!  Nothing I did seemed to fix this issue!

CV 75mm f/1.8

So I got out my Voigtlander 75mm f/1.8 M mount lens, 2 Leica 10mm extension tubes and a Canon 500D +2 Diopter filter and have been using is successfully for quite a while now! I am using the Fuji M to X mount adapter as well.  This is a sharp lens with an easy, smooth focusing.

Leica 10 mm M to M extension tube

Finding extension tubes was a little difficult for the Leica M mount lenses.  Finally, I did find 3 OUFRO / 16469Y extension Rings at Igor’s Camera Exchange as well as on Ebay.  But the Ebay versions were easily 2 to 3 times the cost!  These tubes are very well made and even though they are bright silver on the outside, they are mat black  on the inside where it counts.  They are tight and have ZERO camera/lens play!

Now, why use the X Pro 1 with its mechanical shutter release when I could use a Olympus OMD with its electronic one?  Asking this question is really asking:  Why not allow the TIme Machine to trigger the camera’s shutter?  Well, for water drop photography, having the controller trigger the shutter release is not necessary.  The normal shutter speed is typically around .5s and since we are shooting in the dark, it is no big deal to set a 1 second exposure and have no impact o the image.  What you do:

  • Fire the camera shutter.
  • Fire the Time Machine.

Really Right Stuff Table Top

The rest is simply history!  But the plain truth of it all is that it simply works!  I LOVE the X Pro 1 and lens combination.  The camera gives STUNNING images and it is small and light!  What more do you need?  Being light, it enables me to use a small table tripod from Really Right Stuff that is a joy to use.  Complete with a great ball head, the camera is steady and does not move at all.

Ok it is time to talk about the Time Machine!

This controller allows you to control all aspects of the Drip Module through simple push buttons.  It is easy to use and requires minimal button pushes to achieve your desired effect!

  1. Mode.  The controller has about 15 modes for different types of photography.  For this post, we are interested in Drops.
  2. Number of Drops.  A count of how many drops to make when you press its fire button.
  3. Drop Size.  A timer (in .001 seconds) that controls how long the valve is open thus how large the drop is.  You have to be careful with this one because larger drops will move around as they fall and strike off center or out of round!
  4. Drop Interval.  A timer (in .001 seconds) that delays the time between the drops.
  5. Flash Delay. A timer (in .001 seconds) that delays the flash firing from the first drop.  Normally set to between .115 and .300.  By changing this timer you can directly control the state of the collision!
  6. Advance.  An incremental  timer counter that will adjust the Flash Delay (in .0001 seconds) from the previous shot.  This control will allow you to take a sequence of shots with an incremental Flash Delay and give the ability to see a stop motion display of the collision sequence! (see the end gallery of this post for a 20 shot sequence)

Here is an image of an imminent drop collision.  I got this by adjusting the Flash Delay timer down to the point that the first drop had hit the bottom water and bounced back up and the 2nd drop was falling to the point of almost reaching the rising column of water when the flashes fired!  The red was obtained by using a red glass background and firing a flash through it towards the drops from behind!

About to happen…

Again please note the mixture of blue and red in the water as provided by food coloring as well as gels on the flash units!

Yes, I realize that this has been a long post.  I am going to end it here with a gallery of 20 stop motion images where I set up the Time machine as follows.  I hope that you both enjoyed and learned something about water drop photography here!  When I setup to do this it is always in my gallery and I always post about it on Facebook as to invite other photographers to bring their cameras over and give it a try!  Follow me on Face book at https://www.facebook.com/mark.hilliard.33 to get notified of these photographic opportunities!

Now, On to the sequence shots!

This is a sequence shoot.  The Time Machine was setup as follows:

  • 19″ Drop from valve to lower water surface.
  • 2 Drops
  • Drop Interval at .057
  • Drop Size at .040
  • Flash Delay at .260 for first shot
  • Advance at .0010 second.  This amount of time is added to the Flash Delay after each shot.

So, here then are a sequence of 20 images taken with the exact same setup of water drops showing the difference made by shifting the Flash Delay timer UP by .001 second between shots!

Please, let me know what you thought of this post!

Fuji X Pro 1 for High Speed Water drops Anyone?

Or how to succeed without really trying with a world class camera system!

Ohh, a pretty lead in tease image!

Today was gallery day for me.  I really wanted to go out and shoot but decided that I needed to sit and be open.  So… I dug out my high speed water drop kit and setup on my work table and decided that today I would test out my Fuji X Pro 1 and my Olympus OMD for water drops.  This then is the X Pro 1 post!

First, I can hear you asking, “How can you possibly use the X Pro 1 for water drops?”, well the answer is both frightening and simple at the same time!  I do several types of photography where the camera in use must have an electronic shutter release so that I can hook the camera up to a remote controller, like a Lightning Trigger or a Time Machine for water drops.  But water drops really do not need to be triggered by the Time Machine since the exposure is about a second long to enable the machine to trigger the timed water drops generated for the collision, the size of the drops, the distance between them, the shutter release and lastly the strobes!  This is all done in the following order:

  1. User pushes fire button.
  2. Camera opens the shutter for around 1 second.
  3. Time machine drops the first drop at XXX size.
  4. Time machine Drops the second drop at XXX size.
  5. Time Machine waits a programmed delay.
  6. Time Machine fires two external Canon 580 EX2 strobes set at 1/64 power.

Thats it!  So, while sitting there taking about 600 OMD images of water drops and cursing the fact that the only macro lens I currently have is the 12mm to 50mm macro, I asked myself: “Hey Mark! Why dont you get out the X Pro 1 and put on the 60mm macro and set it up for water drops and simply push your mechanical shutter release at the same time you push the Time Machines fire button?”.  WOW, I was amazed by the simplicity of this thought and immediately got out the X and setup!  The rest is history!

Fuji X Pro 1 with the 35mm w/Canon 500D. Egg cup with green water and the time machine dripper with red water. Black backdrop.

Boat Drinks! Fuji X Pro 1 with the 35mm w/Canon 500D. Egg cup with green water and the time machine dripper with red water. Black backdrop.

Fuji X Pro 1 with the with 35mm w/Canon 500D. Egg cup with green water and the time machine dripper with red water. Black backdrop.

“Lizardo” Fuji X Pro 1 with the Fuji 60mm macro lens attached.

Now, I do have to tell you that I encountered a MAJOR issue with the Fuji 60mm Macro.  Since this technique uses multiple flashes to light and freeze the water drops, I discovered that the lens is VERY PRONE to LENS FLAIR!  ANY light that makes it into the objective from ANY angle reguardless of the placement of the flashes, even room lights will cause a flair in the direct center of the image EACH AND EVERY TIME!  This was VERY FRUSTRATING and took about an hour to overcome with CAREFUL flash placement, darkening of the room and shading the back of the camera to keep stray light from even coming into the gallery windows in the front!  I have to tell you that this was a major pain in the butt!  I can see another lens in my future to shoot macro with.  I even tried my CV 75mm f/1.8 but couldnt get close enough to the water drop to get a full frame image with a Canon 500d attached. So as you can see, the first 3 images were taken with the Fuji 35mm with a Canon 500D +2 diopter filter attached.  Even so this is as close as I could get.  The last image is with the 60mm macro.

Any suggestions for other macro lenses out there??


Please let me know what you think!  The lens aside, you can see that the camera worked great for the images and I will be using it for this again provided that I find a more macro/flash friendly lens!

OK, so many emails!  Here is info on the time machine!


Fuji X Pro 1 and Lightning Photography

Once in a while we just get lucky…

The Super Storm Strike, Fuji X Pro 1

I shoot lightning.  I have specialized gear and cameras just for this.  The Fuji X Pro 1 is NOT a camera system that we would normal associate with daylight lightning photography but sometimes we just get lucky! But, I choose to be both SMART and LUCKY when I am shooting bad weather including lightning, even if I am not properly prepared.  In this post I will share the process of capturing lightning strike images with you!

Normal Daylight Lightning Capture

Normally, I have a Canon 7D or sometimes a Panasonic GH2 dedicated to shooting daylight lightning.  I use it with a Canon 17-40L lens and the Lightning Trigger from http://www.lightningtrigger.com/ which is the BEST lightning trigger on the market simply due to its automatic gain and sensitivity circuits built into it by its creator!  If you want to shoot serious lightning images during the daylight this is the system to get.

But on this particular day I was at a daughters house waiting for the cable guy to arrive when we had a 100 year storm blow across the Low Country of South Carolina.  We had over 600 lightning strikes!  There I was stuck at her house with my lightning camera system at home, no tripod or nd filter and only my new Fuji X Pro 1 camera system in the truck.  I was so mad at myself for not bringing the other equipment along that I almost missed the entire storm.  Eventually I went out to the truck and got out the X Pro 1 and set it up with the Fuji 18mm lens and started shooting in a vain attempt to capture a few strikes.  This is difficult as most lightning strikes are there for an instant then gone… But once in a while a feeder will go up from the ground and cause a multiple discharge from the cloud down that can span a second or two!  For this image that is what happened.  I  saw the strike, triggered the shutter while pushing the camera into one of her porch columns and hoped for a multiple discharge to lengthen the strike time.  I got lucky and actually managed to capture a rare daylight strike by hand!

Have you really sat down and watched a thunderstorm in progress?  You really should.  Pay attention to the lightning strikes.  Notice that there are several types:

Several Cloud to Cloud and Cloud to Ground Strikes.

  1. Cloud to cloud: This type of strike is on the edge of or within the cloud itself.  It is pretty but not as emotionally charged as a ground strike.  Usually these strikes are high speed with a single pulse and unless you are currently making an exposure your chance of capturing one without a Lightning Trigger is going to be very rare.  Here is an example of one such strike showing 6 separate strikes in the same exposure at once!  Look closely at the image on the right and count the actual strikes in the picture.
  2. Single Pulse non branching.

    Cloud to Ground, single pulse: This strike is a quick flash usually with out branching strikes.  It is so quick that the only chance you really have of capturing one is for you to be using a Lightning Trigger or have a long exposure currently in process during the strike. These types of strikes are not as dramatic as a multiple pulse strikes because they are not as bright and do not usually branch out like a tree limb while searching for the upward leader.  Still, any lightning capture is worth the time and frustration necessary and you will be happy to have captured this!  Have you noticed in viewing these images how much more dramatic the daytime strikes are?  Again remember to think in terms of both Color and B&W lightning images.

  3. Cloud to Ground, multiple pulse: This is the big boy of strikes and what we are actually looking for in lightning photography!  In this style of strike a ground feeder rises from the ground towards the sky.  A bolt releases from the cloud searching for it and will wander all over the sky as it moves down.  It will branch out into many bolts like tree limbs during its search for the leader.  Once it finds the leader it will pulse multiple times down the same path as it discharges.  This type of strike can last up to 2 seconds and will generate very bright pulses of light as each discharge travels down the same path!  as a photographer, you have a good chance of capturing this type of strike by firing the shutter when you see the first strike and hope that it is a multiple pulse strike! Of course you can also get lucky during a long exposure in that the strike happens while the shutter is actually open!

Tree Branch Multiple Pulse Strike! Notice the branch structure searching for the leader pulse! Think of shooting in B&W also for a dramatic image. This image was captured with a Canon 7D and a Lightning Trigger.

Shooting without a Lightning Trigger

Daytime X Pro 1 Lightning Setup:

  • Mount the X Pro 1 on a sturdy tripod in a protected environment.
  • Use a remote shutter release.
  • Use a variable or set  ND filter around 6 stops to slow the shutter speed down.  The longer the shutter is open the better the chance of a capture!
  • Set the camera shutter speed to A.
  • Adjust the aperture to f/11 or higher to slow the shutter down.
  • Set the ISO to 200.
  • Set the drive mode to high speed continuous.
  • Set the camera to Manual focus and focus on something in the mid ground.
  • Try to setup your composition with some natural structure in the foreground and background to give the image depth in an area where you have observed lots of strikes.
  • You can shoot many  exposures in the continuous mode and hope for a strike while you are making one, or…
  • Watch for a strike within your framed area and trip the shutter release while hoping for multiple strikes down the same feeder which can last for a second or two which will guarantee you an image of a strike!
  • Keep shooting during the storm.  Do not get discouraged.
As I earlier stated, this technique is more of a guessing game and you will be lucky to actually capture a strike, but it WILL happen!

Now, I would have been much happier to have been in a location to shoot strikes without houses and streets in the foreground, but as I said, I had to wait for the cable guy…

Now, the other style of lightning photography involves shooting at night.  This style will work with ANY camera system including the Fuji X Pro 1. The only requirements of your camera system are that it can be mounted to a tripod, have a remote shutter release and have a manual exposure mode.  Experience has also taught me that a wide angle lens will produce a better image.

Nighttime Lightning Setup:

  • For nighttime lightning, the X Pro 1 will work great.
  • You simply put it on a sturdy tripod in a protected environment.
  • Use a remote shutter release.
  • Set the camera shutter speed on 30s or bulb.
  • Shoot into the storm at about f/8.
  • Set the camera to Manual focus and focus on something in the mid ground.
  • Try to setup your composition with some natural structure in the foreground and background to give the image depth.
  • Consider light painting a foreground structure with a bright flashlight during your exposure.
  • When you have captured a strike  or 2 while the shutter is open in bulb you then release it.
  • If you are set at a 30s exposure you wait till it is finished.

My basic truck setup…

This is the way photographers manage to get several strikes in the same image!  It is easy but you DO have to be careful and make sure that you are not in danger of being hit yourself.  I usually setup inside of my truck with a tripod and an iPad for watching the weather radar and shoot out an open crack in the window.  If the truck is struck, the metal will guide the lightning around you to the ground.

As I said, unless you simply get really lucky with your shutter release timing you are going to get very frustrated with the X Pro 1 for daylight strikes, but for night time, it is the perfect tool!

Go out and give it a try!

Nighttime Lightning Capture using the Bulb Mode

Tybee Island, GA, Hidden Paradise!

Once here it is difficult to leave!

Tybee Island Beach in front of our rental!

Every year I try to make it down to Tybee Island, GA for a visit.  It is one of the hidden treasures of the Southeast coast!  There are two lighthouses there, shrimpers, beaches, birds and many more photographic subjects!  Last year, my wife Ellen made arrangements for a family vacation there with a rental right on the beach.  There were 9 of us there in all and we had a great time!  For me the exciting parts of the week were the photographic excursions out and about.  I am always excited to visit the same places many times as they will always present themselves in a different fashion on each visit!  Below is a small selection of the many things to experience while visiting…

The sand on the beaches there is a fine off white sugar sand and the kids loved to play in it.  There were ALWAYS large ships lined up  to leave and enter the river going up to the port!  Every morning there were shrimp boats going back and forth just off of the beach fishing!

The Tybee Island Lighthouse is a MUST SEE!  It is one of the better looking lighthouses on the coast and always makes a great photographic subject!

Tybee Island Lighthouse in 590nm Infrared.

Cockspur Lighthouse , the 2nd local light house is up the river a mile or so from the Tybee Island Lighthouse.  You can visit it by heading north off of Tybee Island and stopping just before the first bridge and taking the small dirt road off to the right to the marina.  You will then have access with a longer lens to photograph it.  I have done this many times but for this trip we took a Dauphin boat trip out into the river and went around the lighthouse several times.

The Cockspur Lighthouse in Tybee Island.

One of the more interesting things about Tybee Island is the fact that during the summer there are usually daily thunderstorms the come thru the area and this makes for a good opportunity to grab some high speed lightning shots!

High speed daylight lightning capture from the deck of our rental!

Tybee Island is worth taking the time to visit anytime of the year.  Go for a day or a week, you will not be disappointed!

My grandson Jordan pondering the lighthouse keeper's hat as he gets ready to climb the lighthouse stairs!

Galleries Are Here!

The Gallery pages are coming online!

Sunrise on Folley Beach, Light painting on the driftwood with a white LED light! Very LONG Exposure...


On the top menu of the blog you will find several pages listed across the top.  The one labeled Galleries is actually a series of drop down menus which will let you select several organized image galleries containing my favorite work from over the years.  So far, I have 4 galleries populated but will be expanding over this month to around 15.  Please stop by for a visit and come back often to see the changes there!

I hope that you enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed creating them!  They cover about 15 years of my work since living in the Low Country of South Carolina and cover about 19 different states and 6 different countries! I even have some high speed water drop photography thrown in as good measure.

Some More Water Drops…

These Are Too Interesting To Be Boring…

Rainbow Umbrella

Balancing Act

Christmas Tree Lights

Water Drop photography is both fun and challenging!  It is in the world of MACRO where focus and Depth Of Field are things that are seriously difficult to obtain!  I do these on the table in my studio under very controlled conditions.  Feel free to stop by and watch sometime!

Water Drops

Ultra High Speed Water Drop Photography

How could something as simple as falling water drops be so interesting and thought provoking? These image are an example of art that must be felt to be experienced.  There is no explanation that could possibly do them any justice at all!  They are DIFFICULT to create but very fun.  They will challenge even the best photographers in the world so I will not even try to explain the technical aspects of creating them, rather I invite you to experience them…



Alien Encounter


In The Spot Light


Help, I Am Falling Down....


It Was A Dark And Stormy Night....

Something Went BANG In The Night!


A Hole In My Soul


Alice's Mushroom

Well, what did YOU think?  They are very interesting and thought provoking, but show a secret part of life that we rarely have the chance to experience!


Welcome To My Photography Blog!

Starting Off!


Welcome Mark Hilliard’s Fine Art Nature Photography Blog!  Here I will showcase my favorite work with explanations of how each image was created.  I hope that you enjoy these images as much as I did in making them!

September & October here in the Low Country of South Carolina is the time that we see the greatest Hummingbird activity as they migrate to Central America.  So I thought that I would post a few of my best Hummingbird images! Here is a LINK to my hummingbird blog, please consider giving it a visit to find out how I actually take these ultra high speed images of these little birds!

This first image is of a Violet Sabre-winged Hummingbird going after an ant on the mushroom while a Red-eyed Tree Frog watches.  The image was taken in the cloud forests in Monteverdi in Costa Rica.


Violet Sabre-winged Hummingbird & Red-eyed Tree Frog



Next, is an image of an immature Ruby-throated male Hummingbird trying to feed in my back yard and chasing away the Yellow Jacket!   These little birds are afraid of nothing (which can be their downfall).


Bee Gone!



Lastly, a mature male again taken in my back yard!


Adult Male Ruby-thrated Hummingbird


I hope that you have enjoyed these images.  Hummingbirds are my FAVORITE bird subject in the whole world! I spend a lot of time and energy setting up for this and love every second of it!


Adult Ruby-throated Hummingbird