Want to make some abstract art?? It is easy. Let me show you how!!

For the past 3 years I have been teaching the Intro to Macro class on Clickin Moms.  During each week I have a “mid-week challenge” to kind of add a little fun!  These challenges are a great way to step out of the box and have a little fun shooting something you may not shoot on a normal basis or even think to try! In week one we have the oil and water challenge.  This challenge is always a hit for the students so I thought I would share the tutorial with you!

What you will need:

  1. your camera
  2. olive oil (I have also used canola oil, feel free to play around. Thicker oils may yield different results.)
  3. water
  4. a clear casserole pan or bowl
  5. books or something to prop your pan
  6. food coloring
  7. some colorful items to place under the pan. (magazines, colored paper, anything really!)
  8. tripod (optional)
  9. Flash (optional)

Set up:

  1. Fill your clear container with water. I choose a casserole dish because it was shallow and then realized it was not the best choice because it had Pyrex stamped into the glass. I had to keep moving my bubbles over to the side because you could see the writing. So pick a container with no writing.
  2. Set your container on a set of books or some other object to raise it above the ground. You will want it raised to be able to shine light underneath if you choose and to be able to change out the background easily.
  3. Add something underneath to give you a cool background. This can be a solid piece of colored paper, a magazine, a rug, a place mat. Experiment!!
  4. I did not use a tripod for mine. I just stood directly above them and shot them hand holding my camera as I had them right by a window to create enough light to allow for a decent shutter speed. However, if you chose to use your tripod, I would make sure you have it set up before you add your oil.
  5. Add some oil. I just poured in some separate little splotches. Maybe like a tablespoon here and there.
  6. Now you just let the oil settle. It may look cool, just like it is. If not stir it around some. If you stir it super hard, it will just make a bunch of tiny bubble, so I suggest stirring it gently. The bubbles will separate, but then as they collide they will form larger bubbles.
  7. Shoot! Be sure to focus on the surface of the water or along the edge of a bubble, not the background! I shot these from directly above, not at an angle, however, feel free to play around with different perspectives. I did not use my off camera flash for any of these shots, I used natural light. However, if you are familiar with your flash, you can set it so it goes off underneath the dish. I have heard that people have also use a flashlight or lamp too! I have not tried that yet!

Camera Settings:

My settings for these shots were

  1. ISO 3200
  2. f/5
  3. SS 1/160 sec

Yours may be different due to your light etc…but this is a good starting point.

Here is what my set up looks like. The very first shot with all the colors is actually that rug in the first picture at the top of the post. Then I added the magazine you see in the set up picture. It had an ad with a blue sky and white clouds and then a section of red. When I shot my bubbles, I positioned the magazine so the red was just at the edge. By doing this, the red was not in the background, but it created the red rim of color at the top of the bubbles.

pullback of oil and water macro photo by Monica Wilkinson

blue and red oil and water macro picture by Monica Wilkinson

Learn how to take water drops and crown macros here.

Next I used a place mat that we set our dog’s food bowls on. It was actually quite comical as our dog was very concerned and stood right next to me wondering what I was doing with her place mat!! LOL!!

pullback of bubble abstract macro pic by Monica Wilkinson

green and yellow bubble macro photo by Monica Wilkinson

After experimenting with some clear bubbles, I added some food coloring to change the look. Just dropping it in will look like the second shot. So I stirred it up.

pullback of food coloring used in oil and water macro photography by Monica Wilkinson

blue food coloring photo

pullback of stirred food coloring in bubble macro photos by Monica Wilkinson

I decided the blue was nice but added some yellow just to see what would happen. I ended up with a bluish green!

On the second shot I added even more yellow making it a different shade of green. After is settled I added a few more drops of yellow and this time I did not stir it up. I just added the drops and took some shots. It added a nice contrast!

Read how to take macro photos without a macro lens here.

green bubble macro picture by Monica Wilkinson

green oil and water macro picture by Monica Wilkinson

So now it is your turn!!! Experiment. I even let all my stuff sit for about a half hour and came back to it to see what it looked like and the bubbles were all different!

bubble macro photo after the oil has settled by Monica Wilkinson

Here were some of the images from my past students over the past 3 years. It is fun to see how different each one turns out!

12 macro photography tips you need to know.

oil and water macro photo by Michelle Huber

Michelle Huber


oil and water macro photo by Lisa Benemelis

Lisa Benemelis


oil and water macro photo by Lauren Sheintal

Lauren Sheintal


oil and water macro photo by Andria Lancaster

Andria Lancaster


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