Colorful Oil and Water Macro

Create Colorful Oil and Water Macro Photographs using your Tablet as a Background

If you’re stuck indoors or just looking for a creative photography idea, give oil and water macro photography a try.  It’s easy and can be done with supplies and equipment you should already have at home.

Oil and water macro photographs are artistic and colorful, and the patterns and colors are endless.  In this blog, I’ll tell you everything you need to create these artistic macro photographs.

Pastel Oil and Water Macro
Pastel Oil and Water Macro

Equipment and Supplies:

  • DSLR or Mirrorless Camera
  • Lens (Macro or Medium Telephoto Lens). I used an Olympus 40-150mm lens (Micro Four Thirds) for a full frame equivalent focal length of 300mm.  I used a longer lens because my tripod has a center column that was in the way of the set up.  I was able to raise the center column out of the way by using the longer focal length lens.
  • Remote Shutter Release or Intervalometer.  If you don’t have one, you could use a delayed shutter release setting on your camera.  However, a remote shutter release makes it quick to snap the shot when a good composition of bubbles comes into frame.
Topaz Labs

  • iPad or Tablet.  If you are concerned about water spilling on your tablet, wrap it in clear cooking wrap.  Change the setting on your tablet so it does not Auto-Lock after a period of time.  On my iPad, I can change the Auto-Lock setting under Display and Brightness to Never.
  • Colorful backgrounds for your tablet.  You can find these in a search engine or make them yourself.  Choose a variety of colors and patterns.  Choose some bright patterns and some pastel ones. The bubbles will pick up multiple colors from your background. I created an album in iPad Photos for these backgrounds so I could quickly swipe between the different backgrounds.
  • Glass baking dish.  Use a newer one with less scratches so they don’t show in your images.  All of my glass baking dishes have the logo in the middle so I had to shoot in one end of the dish.
  • 4 supports to elevate the baking dish from the tablet.  Raising the dish about 4-5 inches from the tablet should be good.  This separation will allow your oil bubbles to be in focus and your background to be out of focus.  I used 4 Coke cans.
  • Cooking Oil (Olive, Vegetable – try different ones) – Use about 2 tablespoons. More if you want more bubbles.
  • Water

Camera Settings

Here are my camera settings.  You can use these as a starting point.  ISO 200, f/2.8, Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed was around 1/10 – 1/15th of a second, Auto White Balance, Manual Focus.

Oil and Water SetUp

Oil and Water Macro Set Up

  • Set up your camera on the tripod with the tablet between the legs.  Your lens will be facing towards the ground.  Take a practice shot to check the alignment.
  • Place the glass baking dish on top of your supports and pour in the water.  Don’t overfill.  You don’t want it to spill when stirring the bubbles.
  • Pour in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Stir the mixture to mix the oil. 
  • Zoom in and manually focus so the bubbles are in focus and the background is blurry.
  • If you have other lights close to the set up, you may want to turn them off so they don’t reflect white spots onto your image.
  • I like to stir the oil so it rotates in the direction of my composition.  Since you will probably be shooting a slower shutter speeds, you may need to wait until the bubbles slow down before you start shooting.
  • Rotate between the different backgrounds for different effects.

Oil and Water Macro with Dishwashing Soap

Oil and Water Macro with Dishwashing Soap

If you want a different look with smaller bubbles add, some dishwashing soap to the oil and water mixture.  The picture right above is an example where I added Dishwashing Soap.

Written by Martin Belan

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One Comment

  • Christina Young

    Hi Martin

    Would you be okay with me using your set-up image on my Photography Club Website (which I am currently setting up) to let our members know about a workshop we are running on this subject.

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