Refractive droplet macrophotography with the Olympus E-M5 – a clock inside a drop

Written by Gary on August 14th, 2012

One of the local hospitals asked me if I could create an image that relates intravenous cannulae with time so they could use in a campaign to reduce complication rates.

Here are a couple of my first cut ideas without any Photoshopping other than some cropping and resize for web.

In other words, they are essentially straight out of the camera – no tricks.

The idea shown on this post is to create an image of a clock visible within a tiny droplet coming from an iv cannula.

You will need to click on these images to get the larger view.

antique clock in a drop

Droplets refract light and will thus “contain” an image of a lit object some 30cm behind the drop (albeit an upside down one).

In the image above, I chose an antique clock as I wanted the gold and orange tones to complement the blue of the cannula, but as the clock was so detailed, I ended up having to crop it more than I would like to make it obvious it was indeed a clock inside the drop.

Realising this difficulty, I decided to try again with a simpler designed, rather plain clock that anyone would recognise even in a small image, hence the following photo:

plain clock in a drop

Equipment used:

Olympus E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera with Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro on a tripod:

  • allows 9fps manual focus burst rates to catch the split second of the drop about to fall
  • allowed live view magnified image to constantly allow me to adjust the manual focus to deal with the changing droplet size and placement of the clock image
  • the Olympus macro lens is recognised to be one of the sharpest lenses ever made
  • ISO 200 for maximum image quality
  • shutter speed at flash sync 1/200th sec to reduce effects of ambient light
  • aperture f/8-11 to give reasonable depth of field but still allow the background image of the clock to be adequately blurred
  • manual focus – I would rarely if ever use autofocus for such close up photography!
  • manual exposure of course
  • IS = off as camera on tripod
  • no need to constantly set mirror up unlike with dSLRs as there is no mirror


  • off-camera flash set to 1/32nd – 1/64th output to allow rapid sequential shooting
  • any flash could have been used for this purpose as long as it can be set to manual and a small output
  • I actually used a Canon 580EXII flash mounted on a Pocket Wizard FlexTT5 radio controller which was controlled by a PocketWizard MiniTT1 mounted on the camera hot shoe with both being programmed to basic non-TTL mode.
  • you could use any cheap Chinese flash controller for this, or use a off-camera cable (Canon or Olympus) attached to your flash, or you could potentially use an on-camera flash such as the Olympus FL-50(R) and bounce it off a nearby white object.

Then it is trial and error:

  • adjusting exposure – ISO vs flash output setting (one does not wish to change aperture as this is dictating how the image will look)
  • getting the distance from droplet to background image right (to get the correct size image in the droplet)
  • getting the camera to droplet distance set for the composition and ensuring that when you use DOF preview, your background view of the actual clock will not look too distracting.
  • timing your shots for the droplet

More information of photographing droplets can be seen on my photo wiki.


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