How to capture falling drops

To capture the falling drops, the normal rules of photography are seemingly reversed. Instead of instinctively shooting with a shutter speed as fast as possible, I set the camera to a longer exposure, around ¼ of a second, and shoot in a completely dark room. While the 1D has a 1/8000 second maximum shutter speed, the need to shoot with an extremely closed aperture for increased depth of field results in needing a very strong lighting, which can disturb live subjects, and high ISO, which adds noise. Instead, a sudden burst of a flash captures the drop in place. This works simply because in a dark room the quick flash illuminates the subject for only a short period; before and after the flash fires, the environment is completely dark. In essence, we are creating a faster shutter: completely dark (shutter closed) -> flash fires (shutter open) -> completely dark (shutter closed).

Additionally, the flash power must be set to as low as possible (on the 580EX II this is 1/128 and on the MT-24EX is 1/64). Again, this goes against instinct, especially shooting in the dark, as one would think flash power would positively correlate with subject velocity. However, a flash’s power (read: light output level) is created by lengthening the amount of time the flash fires. A flash on full power (1/1) is firing for 1/1000 of a second, while at 1/128 power is only firing for 1/35000 of a second. When shooting in the dark on a virtual bulb exposure, the fast flash acts like the opening and closing of the shutter – except that it occurs almost 4 times more quickly. Too much power, and the subject is illuminated too long, and motion blur results – just like using a slower shutter speed in the daylight. I use the 580EX to capture the drops and subjects’ movements; the MT-24EX is used to illuminate the subject, here a mosquito. I leave my ISO around 400, which provides me with the best black saturation for the background and subject illumination in the foreground, but this value can be adjusted for different scenarios without much disturbance.