Bubbles clinging to the colors of the rainbow

In one of my earlier posts, I shared a photo I captured of some colored pencils. In that post, I alluded to another photo that I actually had in mind when I purchased a pack of colored pencils and grabbed some Alka Seltzer from the pharmacy as well. But when I finally got to capturing the photo I had in mind, it didn’t come about the way I initially thought it would. So today I’m going to share my process for capturing this photo, along with the gear, so anyone can work to re-create a similar photo if they would like. It ended up being a lot more simple that I thought.

photo colored pencils water bubbles macro

I began by organizing the colors of the pencils into the ROYGBIV format and hooked them together with duct tape before attaching them to a wooden stick that would allow them to dangle into the 10-gallon aquarium. I also needed to clean out said aquarium from my earlier fruit drop photos to make sure I didn’t have strawberry seeds floating into my frame.

After filling up the tank with about 8 gallons of water, I got my camera clipped on the Manfrotto tripod and switched my lens to the 100mm Macro. I placed my two Speedlite 430EX IIs on each side of the tank, both pointed at the colored pencils – which were placed at a slight angle in the tank to allow me some more lighting options. Once I felt I had everything set up, I opened my first pack of Alka Seltzer, attached a clip to them so they would stay at the bottom, and dropped them in below the pencils. Bubbles erupted and began floating toward the pencils – but they weren’t really sticking to the pencils like I had anticipated. As I continued snapping photos, white chunks of the tablets began floating into the frame as well. A shallow or wide depth of field (done with adjusting aperture) didn’t seem to really help create the photo I was looking for. I dropped another set of tablets into the tank to give it another go, thinking the bubbles would build as more hit the pencils. Wrong. I took my camera upstairs, disappointed that I didn’t get the shot I was looking for. Figured I would try it again in a few days after I change out the water.

Two days later, while carrying something to the unfinished basement (which happens to be where my “studio” is located), I glanced into the tank and saw these amazing bubbles clinging to the pencils – just like I had pictured in my head. I wasn’t in a position to do anything about it then, so the following day, when I had some time to devote to capturing the scene, I used the same setup and began snapping my photos. I decided to place a blue gel over one of my two flashes and aim it more toward the white background, which would help change that background color while adding some light to the scene.

The majority of my time was now focused on moving my lights closer, further, forward and backward, seeing the different look it provided to the scene.  I also tried holding a gel in front of  a flash and discovered just how hot those flashes are. After the flash triggered, I noticed the gel was a little stuck to the flash and when I looked, I saw a small wisp of smoke making its way into the air. Upon further examination, the gel had melted because it was touching the actual flash part when it triggered. Guess next time I’ll hold the gel a little further from the flash. Yikes!

I did try a green gel in place of the blue, but I ended up liking the blue one better as I did my post-processing. My Lightroom edits were pretty typical from other photos I’ve captured, but I am really pleased with the results. Some of the drawbacks I have with this photo – the pencils started cracking as they sat in the water. There was another colored pencil on the right, but it split down the middle and I decided to crop it out of the final image. I am also not a big fan of the roughness of the ends of the pencils. It seems like the pencils were cheap Crayola ones – either that or I just needed to run them through the sharpener to smooth things out.

I hope the setup and story helps. You can play with the depth of field for different looks, or even adjust the placement of the lights to change things up. My shutter speed was at 1/250, but the aperture varied throughout the shoot.

~signed, Carltonaut

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