One of the trickiest elements of a shot like this is getting the big drop in focus. I have taken similar photographs over the years with varying degrees of success, but it’s really tricky to get the entire drop of water to be sharp and in focus while blurring the rest of the frame. This is partly due to the razor-thin margins you have for depth of field when working with such small subjects, but also due to the physics of how water drops like this bend and shape the light going through them. Inevitably, the best way to get great results, it seems, is through the use of focus stacking: taking lots of shots and then blending together the sharp areas of each one in Photoshop. (If there’s a better technique, let me know! I’d love to learn more!) That’s what I did here and while I didn’t quite know what to expect, I am very pleased with what I got.
I shot this handheld on an overcast day with my Nikon D750, 105mm f/2.8 macro lens, using an aperture of f/11, 1/200 second, and Auto ISO. After trying a couple shots to varying degrees of success, I realized that the only way I could get the image I was going for was to just combine lots of exposures together. See, the thing about a shot like this is you have the drop of water and then the scene reflected inside the drop of water–and the two are decidedly not the same. If you get the drop in focus, you lose the scene. But if you try to get a sharp scene, the drop itself becomes blurry. One solution is to use a super small aperture, but I really wanted a shallow depth of field in order to get just the drop in focus, and all of that points directly to focus stacking. Thankfully, it’s really not difficult and most of the heavy lifting can be done automatically in Photoshop for you. The only difficult part is getting all the shots you want to combine, which is slightly trickier than you might think.
Ideally, a situation like this would be best handled with a tripod and a very slow, calculated series of shots in order to get everything in focus that you want. This situation, however, was not exactly what you would consider ideal: I just had a few minutes, and I most certainly did not have a tripod as I’m not in the habit of toting a bag full of camera gear with me when walking around campus. I put my lens in manual focus, held my camera as still as possible with my right hand while turning the focus ring with my left hand, and holding down the shutter while in continuous high-speed mode. The result was about a dozen images that, when stacked together, gave me the final composition you see here. And you know what? It works. It really works. The bright, crisp raindrop, the rich greens, the earthy yellows and reds, and enough in the foreground and background to give you the sense that you are carefully peeking into a small world right in front of your eyes.