Stefan Brenner Photography

Liquid Art - Ephemeral Beauties

Liquid Art is the name of my photo series of unique pictures showing colliding liquids that create fascinating sculptures within a thousands of a second. They are even to fast for the human eye. But with the help of my digital camera I’m able to capture these sculptures and show them to the world. You can find them in my portfolio under Liquid Art Galerie. On this site you can find some basic informations on how I create these liquid sculptures and how I take pictures of them.

How Everything Began

It all began with an image of a cup of coffee and a drop of milk that was falling into it I saw in one of my photo books. That image inspired me to start experimenting with liquids. I used an injection, a water basin and a remote control for my first tries. In one hand I had the injection and tried to drop in an constant interval on the same location in the water basin. In the other hand I had the remote control for my camera and tried to release the camera perfectly to catch the right moment.

For my further experiments I bought an infusion set from the pharmacy to have more control over the drops. It helped me a lot but I still had to release the camera manually. Therefore I started thinking of automating the process of creating the water drops and releasing the camera as much as possible. That was the beginning of a long and very time consuming development of my own microcontroller based water drop machine.

Technical Details

To create the water drops I use magnetic valves that can be triggered very precisely. They are connected to an Arduino microcontroller board. That gives me full control over the opening and closing times of the valves and therefore the size and release times of the water drops.

My camera and flashes are also connected to the microcontroller.

My Setup

The basis of my water drop machine is a very simple wooden framework on which I can attach all components I need.

To capture my liquid art sculptures I use the following components:

To get the best out of my sculptures I use the following parameters:

Droplet – Toolkit for High-Speed-Photography

For a very comfortable control of my water drop machine I developed my own software named Droplet. It is a platform independent Java program which communicates with the Arduino microcontroller via USB.

For more information see Droplet – Toolkit for High-Speed-Photography.

Lighting and Color

The key element in my liquid art photography is the lighting. Without the help of my flashes I wouldn’t be able to get sharp pictures of my water drop sculptures. The fastest shutter speed of most common DSLR cameras is around 1/8000. But since the liquids are so fast even that short amount of time is way to long to get really sharp pictures. Therefore I set my exposure time to 1/100 and reduce the speed of my flashes as much as possible which gives me a lighting at around 1/20,000th of a second. The key to this technique is that there must not be any ambient light in the room.

To soften the light of the flashes I use milky acrylic glass in front of the flashes. That gives me very soft light without any harsh contours and unwanted reflections.

Most of the liquids I use to drop are very colorless and transparent which results in very low contrast. Therefore I color the liquids with ink, printer ink, food color or textile color. Sometimes I also use color gels on my flashes to color the light but most of the time I use just white light to get the background as clean as possible. This is the look a love the most.

Important Parameters

There are many parameter that influence the appearance of my liquid art sculptures, but the most important are:

Mostly I use water and milk as basis for the droping liquid. To change the viscosity I experiment a lot with different chemical substances (i.e. Guar Gum, Xanathan, Glycerol, …) as well as with the temperature of the liquid (the colder the temperature is, the higher the viscosity of the liquid is and vice versa).

Post Production

Most people think that there is a lot of photoshop manipulation in my pictures which is by far not true. These are the only steps I use for my liquid art images: