Manual Exposure. 1/125th – F22 – ISO 100 – WB 7900 K
Photographing the swirling colours and patterns on a soap bubble is addictive! Every photo is different and the colour and pattern is always changing so you never quite know what you will end up with. Best of all it’s quite easy so long as you have a few necessary items of gear and a little bit of patience.
What you need:
Soap Bubble Mix – we use commercially bought bubble mix from a local hobby shop. You might find that different brands tend to lean towards certain colours so for example we found that our batch of “Hello Kitty” bubbles tended to lean towards orange and reds and the mix we got from Hobby Craft produced more greens and blues. We ended up mixing them together! We also added a little Glycerine just to try to make the bubbles longer lasting.
A Black Background – pretty self explanatory really, ours is a Lastolite Black Velvet pop up background which is nice and black unlike some synthetics which often have a sheen.
A Bowl – we use a cheap glass “ice-cream bowl” that has been sprayed black using Plasticote Matt Black paint. You want as few reflections as possible. Fill it to the brim with water.
A Straw – remember to use a nice bio-degradable one!
A large soft light source – we use an Elinchrom ELC Pro-HD 500 flash head with a 66 cm square soft-box, but any flash will do, for example a flash gun in a pop up soft-box.
Finally, some way of suspending the light directly above the bowl – this is the crucial bit as the light has to be directly above the bubble, just far enough away not to intrude on the picture but close enough to maximise the size of the reflection in the bubble surface.
Some form of flash trigger to fire the flash. We use cheap wireless ones from Amazon that consist of a trigger unit on the camera hot shoe and a receiver unit plugged in to the flash.
As for Lenses, we use a macro lens (in this case a Sony 90mm). You could do it with a zoom in the 70 – 300 range but a macro lens would be best to give you the most versatility.
To start with fill the bowl up to the brim with water (you can add a little soap mix to the water which helps the bubbles last a little longer) and position it under the centre line of the soft-box but forward towards you from the middle of the soft-box. Dip the end of the straw (I make a bend in the straw at the end that will go in my mouth to make it easier to angle down and so I know which end hasn’t been dipped in soap!) and gently blow one bubble on the surface of the water. Inflate it to the desired size. You will see the colour in the top and bottom from the reflection of the light. Adjust the height of the light to the desired position, as close as possible to the bubble without intruding into the picture.
Soap bubbles are very reflective, so we tend to work in a dark room with no other lights on other than the modelling light. If you are using a flash gun you won’t have the luxury of a modelling light so a desk light pointed away from working area would give you enough light to work with.
To create the set-up that is about it … now to photograph the bubble!
Camera Set Up
Working with an off camera flash we used manual exposure mode. We were using a Sony A7 R3 full frame camera and knowing that close up with the 90 mm macro lens the Depth Of Field would be small at best we opted for F22 to maximise DOF as much as possible. Working with a powerful studio light has the advantage of giving us as much light as we need to work at small apertures and low ISO – doing this with a smaller flash-gun you might have to compromise with higher ISO’s and wider apertures.
For maximum quality the ISO was set to 100 – as above, it’s nice to have a lot of light to play with.
Shutter Speed – We used a shutter speed of 1/125th of a second – which is almost irrelevant as working with off camera flash like this you just need a setting that is below the flash “Sync Speed” of your camera. For most cameras that “Sync Speed” – the maximum shutter speed where the camera shutter will synchronise with the duration of the flash – is usually around 1/200th to 1/250th. If you use a shutter speed above the Sync Speed you may catch the shutter curtain in the image blacking out part or all of the image captured. So … 1/125th is simply a convenient speed for us as being well inside the Sync Speed.
White Balance – the modelling light on the Elinchrom Flash Head is a halogen bulb so is quite “warm” (yellow/orange) where as the flash light is daylight balanced to give a cooler more natural light. For the image on the camera to match up with what you see under the modelling light we needed to set the white balance to around 7900 K. Shooting in RAW format gives you the option to change the white balance to what ever you choose later in post processing but, when you take a shot, the picture you see on the camera screen will probably look very blue compared to what you see in real life. The exact WB will vary a bit according to your flash lights – our ProFoto D2 lights in “Freeze Mode” (high speed mode) come out at around 9000 K to get the same colours – so a little playing about might be in order to get it right.
Focusing – we use a single focus point on single focus (AF-S) and shoot free hand rather then use a tripod to give us more freedom to pick and choose how close in or far we want to be. If you are not confident to do this you could use a tripod. Focus point is usually 3/4 of the way up the bubble to try to maximise the area in focus. Sometimes it helps to place a chair, with it’s back to you, just in front of you and use the chair back as a rest to lean on.
For this particular photo we chose to go in very close with the Macro lens and only photograph a small piece of the bubble. How close you go depends on your lens and your personal choice – could choose to shoot more of the bubble or isolate one feature, it’s up to you!
And that’s about it for this picture – and how we do soap bubble photos in general.