Category Archives: Water Drops

Water Drops in the Morning

It rained overnight. In the morning the sun came out. I was up early with camera and macro lens, crawling on my belly to seek out nature’s most unfathomably beautiful gems: water drops in the garden.

Water Drops on a Young Columbine at Sunrise © Harold Davis

Water Drops on a Young Columbine at Sunrise © Harold Davis

Morning Jewel © Harold Davis

Morning Jewel © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Rainy Day in Paris

Last night as a lay under my quilt in my garret room I heard the wind in a racing howl across Paris. I fell asleep to the rhythm of the rain playing percussion on the roof.

Rainy Day in Paris © Harold Davis

Sure enough, in the morning it was indeed a rainy day in Paris, and the water drops danced on the glass of my window facing the Eiffel Tower. Yet somehow the new day brought light and promise beyond the storm, which washed the city at least a bit cleaner.

By midday the storm had broken, although the wind was still strong. Everyone seemed fresher and fortified in the new light from beyond the rain, even in the depths of the Metro where the music was more original and less lip-synched to Piaf. It’s hard not to admire Paris, although I have no real clue about what accounts for the existential magic.

Also posted in France, Paris

Spider Web Bokeh

The other day dawned here in Berkeley, California with low, clinging fog. It was like being in the middle of a cloud. The thing about this kind of weather is that it’s rare—and wonderful—to have the water droplets in the fog physically on myriad objects. Truly, they look like nature’s perfection, and it is paradise photographing delicate plants and the webs of spiders when these gentle fog drops stay put. Mostly, this is in the autumn when spiders begin to spin their webs in earnest.

Spider Web Bokeh © Harold Davis

Spider Web Bokeh © Harold Davis

The kids, as always, were up early, and so was I. When I noticed the wondrous fog, I threw on some clothes, gathered my camera with a Zeiss 50mm f/2 macro lens, put an extension tube in my pocket, and headed up the hillside to hunt water drops on spider webs.

My thought was to look for out-of-focus patterns in the light reflecting from the fog droplets on a spider web, with the term bokeh covering the general rubric of attractive out-of-focus photography.

Wet Spider Web 2 © Harold Davis

Wet Spider Web 2 © Harold Davis

Clearly, the Zeiss prime lenses are very sharp. But one thing that is less obvious that I also love about these lenses is how well they render out-of-focus areas.

As I advise in Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer: A Photographer’s Creative Companion and Workbook, it sometimes enhances a photographic quest to set technical limits. So I decided to only use the maximum aperture on my lens (f/2). Besides photographing wide-open, I planned to use aperture-priority metering, to shoot handheld (as opposed to on a tripod), and to include at least some out-of-focus elements in every frame.

Wet Spider Web © Harold Davis

Wet Spider Web © Harold Davis

With these constraints in mind, I started finding spider webs covered in morning dew. Bokeh and out-of-focus or not, the background was important to me. I needed a spider web with a clean background without wires, trash cans, or cars.

Higher and higher up the hills I went, and just as the sun was starting to burn through the fog and evaporate the water drops, I found a delightful web in great light at the crest of the hills that dominate this side of the San Francisco Bay area.

Of course, even with a fixed aperture, and letting the aperture-preferred metering handle the exposures, there were many variables that impacted the bokeh: the focus point I chose, how out-of-focus I threw the image, the directionality of the focus blur, and whether or not I used an extension tube.

Related stories: Natural Jewelry; Within the Web; Web Architecture; Web Solarization; Nature’s Harp. Also check out my book, Photographing Waterdrops.

Also posted in Patterns

Rain on Variegated Bamboo

Last week there was a much-needed overnight rain. Early in the morning I prowled the neighborhood with my camera and tripod, and as the showers were winding down photographed these water drops on a leaf of a variegated bamboo.

Rain on Variegated Bamboo © Harold Davis

Rain on Variegated Bamboo © Harold Davis

You can learn more about water drop photography—in the spirit of “shaken, not stirred” these are natural, not artificial water drops—in my Focal Press book Photographing Waterdrops.

Also posted in Photography

Waterdrops via Otus 85

I shot this image with my new Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 lens during a break in the rainy weather. To get closer to the waterdrops, I added a 36mm extension tube. The exposure data was 1/15 of a second, f/7.1 and ISO 100, with the camera on a tripod. I like the brightness of the way the lens renders, as well as the sharp detail of the in-focus blade of grass with waterdrops and the attractive bokeh of the out-of-focus areas.

Waterdrops via Otus 85 © Harold Davis

Waterdrops via Otus 85 © Harold Davis

A waterdrop functions like a fisheye lens, and shows an almost 360 degree view of the miniature world around it. If you look closely at the waterdrops in this photo, you’ll see I am reflected while taking the photo along with Otus 85, as well as a street sign. More interestingly, the first waterdrop reflects an image of the next waterdrop in the row; presumably, this is an infinite chain, like looking in a mirror reflecting a mirror, but at a very small size.

Solar Flare

Rain in California this spring has been sorely needed. It has fallen intermittently and blessedly heavy at times—but never enough to stop the drought or replenish the reservoirs. After one such downpour, I went out with my camera searching for waterdrops.

Solar Flare © Harold Davis

Solar Flare © Harold Davis

It was late afternoon, and the rain had stopped. The setting sun turned drops of water to natural jewelry. I crossed the street, and positioned my tripod near a large and wet patch of decorative grasses. The sun was low in the sky and reflected off some of the grasses. To the extent that I focused close, the reflection of the sun was refracted by the diaphragm blades within the lens. The closer I focused, the larger the solar refraction.

If you look at the image, you can see that I focused on the tiny drop of water in the mid-to-lower left, and that the “solar flare” of refracted sunlight shows the polygonal shape of the opening within my macro lens.

To see more of my photography of natural waterdrops, please check out my book Photographing Waterdrops: Exploring Macro World with Harold Davis (Focal Press).

Exposure data: Nikon D800, 200mm f/4 Nikkor macro lens, 36mm extension tube, +4 close-up filter, 1/400 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 400, tripod mounted.

Also posted in Photography

Down in the ditch where the waterdrops are

To get a shot like this of waterdrops means getting wet, particularly when it is raining. And raining it was in Hudson Gardens in Littleton, Colorado where I was taping an online course in flower photography for an up-and-coming powerhouse in photographic education, Craftsy.

Black-eyed Waterdrops © Harold Davis

Black-eyed Waterdrops © Harold Davis

If you are interested in learning how to make images like this one, please check out my book Photographing Waterdrops: Exploring Macro Worlds with Harold Davis, or wait for the course—which will be online in October.

Pattie Logan, the producer of my flower photography course, is holding an umbrella over my head and camera as I photograph this waterdrop, below left. The Craftsy production crew is shown sheltering from the intermittent rain under umbrellas and a portable tent between takes (below right) with the flowers and waterdrop I photographed in the foreground. Both iPhone shots by Adam Speas, part of the production team.

Harold in the rain

Craftsy production team

Also posted in Flowers

Natural Jewelry

Photography Waterdrops by Harold DavisIf you’ve been following my blog or my Flickr stream you may have noticed more than the usual proportion of extreme macro shots involving waterdrops. Well, I do love shooting waterdrops in the spring, so maybe this needs no explanation, but it is also because I’m at work on a book about waterdrop photography from Focal Press (the cover is shown to the left).

Here’s the story behind a recent shot I made for my book Photographing Waterdrops: Exploring Macro Worlds with Harold Davis.

Up early on a cool, drizzly morning I wandered the trails in the coastal mountain range near where I live. It was damp and cool and my major preoccupation was staying warm and keeping my equipment dry.

Then the sun came out and the moisture began evaporating over huge swaths of the land. I knew that to capture waterdrops I needed to move swiftly. I lay down on my belly in the rain soaked grass, and pointed my camera on its tripod up at these waterdrops with the sun bursting through.

Morning Jewelry by Harold Davis

Morning Jewelry © Harold Davis

I was careful when I made my exposure to error on the “dark side” by about 1.5 EV—because I knew that I could recover dark areas when I processed the photo, but if let the sunbursts blowout because of overexposure then the primary visual point of the image would be lost.

Exposure data: 200mm macro lens, 36mm extension tube, +4 close-up filter, 3/10 of a second at f/45 and ISO 200, tripod mounted.

Also posted in Photography

Paperwhite Waterdrops

The Paperwhite, Narcissus papyraceus, is a small white flower related to the Daffodil. Grown from a bulb, the plant is originally from the Mediterranean basin. It’s commonly thought of as a house plant—and “forced” to bloom indoors for the winter holidays.

By the way, forcing a bulb is a process that to some extent negates the old saw that you can’t fool Mother Nature. The idea is to convince a bulb that it has slept through winter and come into spring—and that now is the time to send forth flowers. This psychological manipulation of the bulb is accomplished by cooling it in a dark place for some time and then putting it someplace warm, such as a sunny window, to experience virtual spring. A prisoner in a dark cell can have their sense of time totally warped in the interests of their captors, and the same thing is true when it comes to bulbs.

Paperwhite Waterdrops by Harold Davis

Paperwhite Waterdrops © Harold Davis

But I digress, a common thing for me when it comes to flowers. It seems that I have Paperwhites growing without being forced in my garden, and blooming this time of year. I don’t remember intentionally planting them. I think we must have been given a forced Paperwhite in a pot. After it was finished blooming I must have popped the bulb out of its pot and into the garden and forgotten about it, and, voilà, this little Narcissus papyraceus patch in December was the result. How cool is that?

Vector by Harold Davis

Vector © Harold Davis

In fact, it does not get very cold in my garden. It rarely gets any cooler than 45 degrees Farenheit here in the hills of Berkeley, California—cool enough for the Paperwhites, and temperate enough for me to stay warm even though the garden was wet from a light rain when I photographed these flowers the other morning. 

Least Popular Posts: I’ve added a neat widget to my blog that displays the least popular posts I’ve ever written. You can see these neglected stories listed about half way down the Masthead on the right, just below Recent Posts. I thought these stories were dead and buried deep. There’s a certain morbid fascination in watching them rise from the blog post grave like the Undead—until some poor, hapless visitor to my blog clicks on them. By the very act of opening one of these stories they become more popular than their peers, and escape off the Undead Blog Story list!

Also posted in Flowers, Photography

Splendour in the Grass

I arrived early for a workshop I was leading in Bear Valley, the park headquarters for Point Reyes National Seashore. As soon as I parked my car I noticed a patch of grass covered with heavy dew. The sun had risen over the hills to the east, and even from where I was standing I could see gem-like patterns of light and reflections of the sun refracted through waterdrops thick in the grass.

Morning Dew by Harold Davis

Morning Dew © Harold Davis


There was no point in using a tripod because there was a breeze and the grass was in motion. In any case, it would have been difficult to position a standard tripod as low to the ground as I needed to be to get really in-and-among the dew-bedecked grass.

Without hesitation, I pulled out my camera and macro lens and got down on my belly in the grass. The sunlight and waterdrops seemed to create vast, radiant structures—ephemeral architecture made up of minute blades and moisture. I trolled forward on my belly.

It was a gift just to get to witness this Lilliputian scenery. But my time was limited as I knew my students would be arriving soon—and the morning dew was quickly evaporating with the rising sun.

I switched gears from observer to photographer. The photography trick was to expose for the sunlight, allowing the grass and background to fall into shadows. I knew I could “rescue” dark areas when I multi-RAW processed my files.

Also, I had to be very aware of focus and depth-of-field issues since these are critical in macro photography. The idea was to take control of focus by being as parallel as possible to my compositions.

I was shooting in the direction of the sun, meaning the grass was backlit. This lighting direction caused the most striking effects in the grass.

Splendour in the Grass by Harold Davis

Splendour in the Grass © Harold Davis


I needed to understand focus and depth-of-field issues intuitively because with the sun directly ahead I could neither see very well through my viewfinder nor review the images on my LCD.

As workshop participants started to arrive I switched gears again, and got up to setup for my workshop. I was dripping and cold from being down in the wet grass. Fortunately, I always carry a dry set of clothing with me—it wouldn’t have been fun to be soggy all day while I presented the workshop!

By the way, if you are interested in my workshops you can keep track of them on the Photography with Harold Davis meetup group.

Exposure data: All three images 105mm macro, ISO 200, hand held; Morning Dew (top) 1/1000 of a second and f/11; Splendour in the Grass (middle) 1/250 of a second and f/40; Dew in the Grass (bottom) 1/800 of a second and f/14.


Dew in the Grass by Harold Davis

Dew in the Grass © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Within the Web

Within the Web © Harold Davis

Within the Web © Harold Davis

To make this image, first I needed one wet spider web with a colorful background. The web I found is shown in a somewhat more conventional image in Wet Web.

It was early in the morning, and the low-angled sun was adding saturated color to the scene. I switched to my 50mm macro lens and used Manual exposure controls to open the aperture all the way to f/2.8. Next, I dialed up the shutter speed so that it was fast enough (1/500 of a second) so that the motion of the spider web in the wind wouldn’t have much impact.

Up close and personal, I shot a series of “portraits” of individual waterdrops, with the idea of keeping one or two drops in focus but letting the background go out of focus so I could capture attractive bokeh in the frames.

Back at the computer, I combined the images using stacking—so that the brightest drops were the ones that appeared in the final Photoshop composite.

50mm macro, twenty exposures, each exposure shot for a duration of 1/500 of a second at f/2.8 and ISO 200, hend held; exposures combined in Photoshop Extended version using the Statistics script with mode set to Maximum.

Sea Palm Forest is another image of mine created unconventionally with stacking.

Also posted in Photography, Photoshop Techniques

Web Architecture

Wet Web © Harold Davis

Wet Web © Harold Davis

When I drop Katie Rose off at Step One, the area around her pre-school is often in the clouds, with drops of water clinging to flora—and spider webs.

The other day, I brought my camera, and paused to admire the marvelous but ephemeral architecture of the spiders.

There was a stiff breeze, so I shot needed a fairly fast shutter speed. I also needed a bit of depth-of-field to get most of the web in focus.

All photographic technique amounts to compromise in the face of what is practical. In this case, I boosted my ISO to 500. With my lens set to a 65mm focal length, I shot at 1/100 of a second shutter speed and an aperture of f/14.

This was an underexposure by about 2 EV compared to an average light meter reading—in essence I captured the waterdrops on the web at the expense of letting the colorful background of the out-of-focus tree go dark and dull. As I teased my image out of the RAW file I adjusted this, so that the waterdrops are vivid, and the background also appears bright.

Also posted in Photography

Sweet Melancholy

Rainy Day Rapture © Harold Davis

Rainy Day Rapture © Harold Davis

There’s nothing like watching rain from inside where it is warm and dry to usher in feelings of sweet melancholy. Yesterday, a warm and gentle rain fell like a curtain of moisture across Berkeley, California.

It was too wet to photograph outdoors, but my shutter finger was definitely itchy.

Looking out a rear window I saw the pattern of waterdrops on the glass made fanciful colors from a neighbor’s yard. I shot with my camera on the tripod, combining three exposures to get the depth-of-field right. I used the f/5.6 exposure for the overall background, and exposures at f/14 and f/32 to render some of the waterdrops sharper.

Exposure data: 50mm macro, 3 exposures (1/60 of a second at f/5.6, 1/13 of a second at f/14, and 3/5 of a second at f/32), ISO 100, tripod mounted; exposures combined using hand-layering in Photoshop.

Also posted in Photography

Sun and Waterdrops

Sun and Waterdrops © Harold Davis

Sun and Waterdrops © Harold Davis

The day started with a massive downpour. Then there was a sunny interlude before the rain began again. Things continued in this intermittent vein.

I took advantage of a lull in the rain to photograph waterdrops and sunshine (a rarer combination than one might think).

Things were moving quickly. My usual approach to waterdrop photography is surprisingly formal, using a tripod and fully stopped-down lens. Today I decided to try a different approach.

I hand held my camera, focusing on some waterdrops on a clump of flowering Jasmine backlit by the rising sun. Using manual exposure, I made sure to pick a fast enough shutter speed (1/400 of a second) so the waterdrops would be sharp even though they were in motion. Then I focused on the waterdrops and fired off about ten shots. By then, the sun had moved out of the frame.

This was the best of the bunch, with the wildness of the solar refractions and rays in contrast to the controlled focus of the waterdrops on the Jasmine bud.

Exposure Data: 50mm macro, 1/400 of a second and f/10 at ISO 320, hand held.

Also posted in Photography

Anemone and Water Drops

Anemone and Water Drops © Harold Davis

Anemone and Water Drops © Harold Davis

How fine it is to take advantage of a light rain, and photograph waterdrops caught in a spider web!

A small, delicate flower, an anemone, is behind the web and refracted and reflected in the waterdrops.

Here’s the Waterdrops category on my blog and my set of Waterdrop images on Flickr.

Also posted in Flowers, Photography