Photographer Martin Waugh is fixated with water. Schooled in physics, the Portland Oregon Waugh was mesmerized by high-speed photography capturing brief, split second events such as the balloon popping, smashing light bulb, and water splashing images of Harold Edgerton which he saw around 10 years ago. This spurred him on to create his own version of split second moments just like Edgerton did. By doing so, he made a significant discovery.
“One night, I was taking pictures of the moment that the splash forms a column with a ball on top,” said Waugh. “But, one image was very different, in fact, it seemed physically impossible: the top of the column was flat!”
After analyzing the odd and unexpected image, Waugh came to the conclusion that the impact of droplets with a second ball falling on the column, flattened it. Waugh then constructed a timer that could generate controlled droplet collision at will. “All single drops have pretty much the same life cycle, but when you have two drops colliding, the variations are almost endless.”
In no time at all his testing with the droplet collisions produced a collection of remarkable images. Waugh however is difficult to satisfy. He was deeply motivated to carry on testing with variations of droplet mass as well as impact velocities. Waugh relates his reasons for continuing, “There was a little voice in my head talking to me like an older brother: ‘That’s nice, Martin, but the real people get better light.’ OK, I work to get better light. ‘That’s nice, but the real people stop the motion better.’ OK, I’ll work on that. ‘That’s nice, but the real people have richer colors.’
For the experiments, Waugh uses an assortment of Canon digital SLRs: D60, 10D, 20D, and recently the 5D Mk II. Of all these gear, the 20D with a 180mm Canon macro works the best for him. Surprisingly, his stop motion flashes are ordinary Vivitar 285HV portable strobes.
“When you set this flash for low power it delivers a short duration burst,” notes Waugh. “Studio flashes tend not to work as well, as they are designed for high light output and typically have long durations.”
So far, it has been a nine year love affair of water drop photography for Martin Waugh. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into or where it would lead, but the journey has been richly rewarding. I have shot over 100,000 pictures of drops and I still think of new things to try and new ways to improve them.”
See Waugh’s astonishing Liquid Sculpture collection over at his website.