Tons Of Fun Photographing Oil And Water

Posted: July 30, 2012 in Oil and Water

I’ve seen many images posted in various websites of mixing oil and water and always thought they were really cool images. For what ever reason I never took the time to photograph oil and water. So I finally decided to take some time and give it a go. Here is how to do it with simple basic household items.

What’s needed

1) Clear glass pie dish or clear baking dish.
2) Cooking oil
3) Water
4) Multi colored photo, fabic, wallpaper, etc.
5) Two tall drinking cups
6) Butter Knife

I fill the clear glass pie dish with about an inch of water and add maybe a half cup or oil.  I used a stool to set up my system on, but a small table will also do.  The two tall drinking cups are placed underneath the pie dish at the outside edges to support the dish.  You can see below the pie dish I have a print of one of my fall multi colored leaves.  You can use fabrics or wall paper, that has lots of colors.  I set up inside next to a window for lots of light, but you could do this outside as well.

Set up your camera overhead, and get the front of lens parallel to the water.  I used an f/stop of f/8 and my shutter speed worked out at 640th of a second at an ISO of 1600.  I wanted a fast shooting shutter speed that would help stop moving bubbles.

You may pour the oil on the water and get lots of bubbles or in my case I only had grape seed oil on hand and when I poured it on the water it just created a slick on top of the water, but not a lot of bubbles.  I used a knife to swirl the water fairly hard to help create some more bubbles and create a swirl of lines and bubbles.

I would start swirling the water with the knife in a fairly quick whirlpool motion, and then pull out the knife and look through the cameras viewfinder and study as the swirling bubbles and lines passed through the frame.  The bubbles and lines will be going pretty quick at first, but just wait and the movement will slow down.

I’m looking through the viewfinder and as the water would slowly move through the frame,  I would see all kinds of interesting designs of bubbles and lines, and when I see something I liked,  I would fire the shutter with a remote. The fast shutter speed is needed to stop the action.

When the movement of the water stopped, I would start moving the water in a circle again with the knife.

You will get some nice groups of bubbles that will pass like the ones in the two images below.


With the movement of the water you will get lots of compositions moving though the frame, and you will get interesting swirling lines like this next group of images.

Now you can just shoot whatever bubbles you may find just randomly floating on the water and move the camera and tripod around, but I like to be able to just set up the camera in one place and move the bubbles though the frame and having unlimited artistic composition to choose from.

If you choose to do it this way try and get the highest shutter speed you can to stop the movement of the bubbles.   Raising the ISO will help with the higher shutter speed. If your shooting in direct sunlight you will have plenty of light for a fast shutter speed and may not need a higher ISO.

This is a lot of fun, and you will have tons of interesting artistic artwork.


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  1. Alister Benn says:

    Great post Mike, looks like a load of fun – I’ll have to give this a bash when I need a break…

  2. Mike,
    Nice shots! You might like to try using less oil. I have had good success with just a few drops of oil. Different amounts of oil give different bubbles. They all are interesting and fun to shoot!

    • Mike Moats says:

      Thanks Terry, this is the first time I’ve try this, so will have to try using different amounts of oil like you suggest.

  3. Buddy Starling says:

    awesome idea, thank you sir

  4. Steve says:

    Thanks Mike. Looks pretty cool and I need to give this a try.

  5. Cool! I could see myself trying this above an actual pile of leaves or pebbles outside. Thanks!

  6. […] Check out Mike’s fabulous tutorial here…  […]

  7. cblaylock says:

    Wow, these are really pretty. I tried this once but mine did not turn out as nice. Will have to try again now that I “know” my camera a little better.

  8. Julie Eggers says:

    Hi Mike, Terry showed me this, but he forgot that I had played around with it a couple of years ago. I really like this technique. I had to show him a few of mine! Maybe I will post one on facebook. Julie Eggers

  9. Jackie Brady says:

    can’t wait to try this ~ thank you so much Mike for this fun FB page. Cheers

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