How To: Oil and Water Photography Tutorial

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A few months ago, NJspots ran a macro photo contest which did an awesome job showcasing the creativity that exists on a tiny scale. I didn’t participate in the contest because I didn’t have the proper setup at the time, but just as luck would have it, I found a macro adapter for my set up just as the contest ended. I started doing research into different areas of macrophotography other than just plants and flowers, which is what I started with, and that’s where I found oil and water photography.

Now you don’t need a macro lens to give this a go. You can also crop down your shots to get the bubbles you want in Photoshop or Lightroom.

I’ve detailed the steps below so you can see how quick and easily you can set up and shoot!


First things first – here’s the gear you’ll need:


oil and water photography, How To: Oil and Water Photography Tutorial

For the colors to pop in your shots, you want to have as much space as possible between the oil and the light source. If you have a deep enough piece of glassware you can shoot through, you can add two or more inches of water in the dish providing space for the oil to rest above the light.

Hook your camera up to the tripod and direct the camera straight down into the dish. If your camera is aimed at any bit of an angle, your depth of field will be skewed which will result in only a partially focused photograph.

So once you have your water in the glass and camera set up to shoot, it’s time for the background. I use my Surface as a light source by finding vibrant color schemes and patterns online and turning up the Brightness on the device as needed. If you have flashlights or LEDs with gels or any colored diffuser, those can work too.


Once you have everything set up and secure, you’ll want to add the oil. Start with maybe a tablespoon’s worth of oil and give it a gentle stir. You’ll see the oil break up into all different size of bubbles. This is a good opportunity to hop up to your camera and find the proper focal point and switch to manual focus – so you don’t accidentally lose it when shooting in auto.

If at any point the oil forms larger bubbles, just give it a gentle swirl again to break it up. If your camera is set up to record video, you can capture some really soothing visuals.


You’ll want to shoot at a rather fast shutter speed – something like 1/320 of a second. Try to keep the ISO down as low as possible and the aperture is set as wide as you can go. This will help ensuring your glassware remains out of focus.

Once you’re ready to actually shoot, try to eliminate all of the light in the room so it doesn’t cast any kind of hue onto the image you’re trying to create.


There’s so many factors you can play with when shooting the oil – play with the colors and images behind the glass; different camera settings and lenses; add objects to the water. 


oil and water photography, How To: Oil and Water Photography Tutorial

Now there’s a possibility that unwanted elements may end up in your water (hair, dust, dirt, etc.), so you may need to edit them out in either Lightroom or Photoshop. Personally, I feel like PS does a better job.

After that, you’ll want to edit as best as you see fit, as you may want to increase the brightness or saturation.


Make sure you share your photos with #NJspots and tag us @NJspots in your story if you use this tutorial. We’d love to see what you come up with!

NJspots is a growing community. By sharing you can help.

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