Fun With Oil and Water

August 9th, 2012 by Mike Moats

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’s 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, fabric, wallpaper, etc.
5) Two tall drinking cups
6) Butter Knife

I filled 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 that below the pie dish I have a print of one of my fall multi colored leaves.  You can also use fabrics or wallpapers that have 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 can pour the oil on the water and get lots of bubbles.  But 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.


You can just shoot whatever bubbles you may find 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 you are 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.

You can visit Mike’s blog and learn about his workshops here: Tiny Landscapes

Mike’s eBooks are available in the OPG store here: Mike Moats



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2 Responses to “Fun With Oil and Water”

  1. Caroline says:

    I have always wondered how wonderful images like these were created. I cannot wait to follow your straight-forward instructions. Thanks so much!

  2. James Saxon says:

    Love the images and the ease of set-up. After you set up the camera and select auto focus can you preview in Live View so you don’t have to look through the viewfinder?

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