A place for experimental photographers

Macro Bubble Photography

Following my recent interest in Macro photography, the purchase of a Sigma 105mm Macro lens and horrible winter weather, I have decided to test my photographic skills indoors and try to take some pictures of soda water bubbles. I think this was the most difficult kind of photography I have tried so far but I would strongly recommend every aspiring macro photographer to try this.

The Gear

You are going to need: a DSLR camera, a Macro lens, extension tubes (necessary if you really want to get close), a speedlight (preferably Sb-600, 700, 800 or 900), a TTL flash remote cord (again, the longer the better), a glass (preferably long and straight) a bottle of sparkling mineral or soda water, a steady hand and a great deal of patience.

Again, if your camera’s built-in flash has a ‘Commander’ mode it can be used to trigger the speedlight wirelessly, then you do not need the TTL Flash Remote Cord. In Nikon cameras go to ‘Menu’ then ‘Custom Settings Menu’ next ‘Bracketing/Flash’ and finally ‘Flash cntrl for build in flash’. If the ‘CMD’ mode is displayed set the following:

Build-in Flash: ‘–‘ that means that only a brief pre-flash will fire but, due to small aperture and fast shutter speed, this will not affect exposure. If want to completely limit the light coming from your built-in flash get an inexpensive Nikon SG-3 IR panel.

Group A: ‘M'(Manual) and the appropriate FP (flash power)

Then, switch your speedlight to ‘Remote’ and make sure that the group and channel displayed on your speedlight agree with the settings in your camera’s ‘CMD’ menu. However, if you choose to use your built-in flash in commander mode you will not be able to shoot in High Burst. In this kind of photography where you have to move around your object, it’s actually easier to trigger your flash wirelessly without the TTL remote cord.

The setup

The most difficult thing in this project was the light. Firing your speedlight straight at the glass is pointless as it creates annoying glass reflections that ruin exposure. I placed my speedlight on the left side of the glass and bounced the light off the ceiling, so the light was coming down on the glass. You may also try firing your strobe from the bottom, provided you have a glass table. If you chose to bounce the light off the ceiling, your FP (Flash Power) will obviously depend on the distance. Put your strobe on Manual and try between 1/8 and 1/16. If you are using your camera’s built-in flash to trigger the speedlight, you will need to set the appropriate FP (Flash Power) in the camera’s ‘CMD’ menu as explained above.  Again, experiment a little to get the right exposure. Remember, you need enough light to lit the water and bubbles, but not enough to fill the surroundings with light. Use a dark background and try to avoid projecting your reflection onto the surface of the glass by reducing all sources of light in your room. As always, keep a small lamp on somewhere in the corner, producing enough light for you to see the bubbles but not enough for the camera to pick it.

Getting the right focus also proved to be challenging. Basically, in Macro photography at increased magnification level, the autofocus is completely useless and you will have to shoot Manual. In simple terms, this is caused by the fact that the camera is unable to align the images in order to find the right focus due to constant camera shake, therefore, the focus ‘wanders’ across the image. You may not notice your hand moving, but if you are shooting at 1:1 magnification and using extension tubes, even the slightest movement will confuse the autofocus. You could use a tripod but it is extremely impractical as the bubbles last for a short while and you will need to move around the glass to spot some interesting patterns. Simply, set the focus to Manual, select the desired magnification level, get close to your object and, looking through the viewfinder, focus by rocking back and forth until you get the right focus. If you want to zoom out in order to get a different composition, just step back and then adjust the magnification ring to get the right focus.


Just like with Water Splash photography, you will need fast shutter speed and a small aperture. First of all, the bubbles are moving quite fast and, if you are using extension tubes to get really close, you will always notice camera shake, shooting at this kind of magnification. Secondly, you want your bubbles to come out sharp. The above pictures were shot with  1/200-1/300s shutter speed, aperture f/10, ISO 400 as well as centred-weight exposure metering mode.

So, pour some water into your glass and start shooting immediately. Remember that the bubbles will not last forever and they tend to move and disappear quite fast. That’s why I would suggest this exercise to all aspiring Macro photographers as it really requires a steady hand and lots of patience. You will need to be fast and don’t get frustrated if your bubbles escape before you capture them.


Again, post-processing is necessary to achieve good results. I used Adobe Lightroom 3 to increase the clarity and work on the curve and Photoshop CS5 to apply the “Unsharp Mask’ filter.

Once again, thanks for reading and good luck with your bubble photography.

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6 responses

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    December 27, 2011 at 8:45 am

    • Grzegorz Rogala

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