Segregation has its uses

Not among different races or cultures of people, of course – that’s just stupid, a sign of hopeless immaturity, actually. But among certain substances, it can be quite useful. Like among oil and water.

vegetable oil droplets in shallow glass pan of water
That’s what we’re looking at here of course, small droplets of vegetable oil in a shallow glass pan of water. That’s because today (the fifth Monday in January) is Household Ingredients Day, when photographers are obligated to screw around with whatever’s handy to create something fartsy. Or at least try. Fart is in the eye of the beholder, naturally, and all I can do is show you want I got. Then when you’re done giggling, you can look at the images here and judge them for yourself, but of course you’re going to decide favorably, because I already know you have excellent taste.

This is also a bit of a callback to the second monthly abstract, before this was actually a thing, because I’ve been wanting to play around with such things a little more, and the lack of a January abstract (and the holiday of course) was a decent excuse. Initially, I experimented with soap bubbles, and got some promising concepts but nothing that was particularly strong, so I cleaned that out of the pan and went with the oil and water.

vegetable oil and water in a shallow glass pan with illuminated CD underneath
I also played around with having different images displayed on a tablet underneath the pan, but these were too close to produce a good effect – the distance should be more than a centimeter or so, to allow the oil drops to act as lenses. So what we have here is actually a CD, illuminated by a strong flashlight at an angle to get some of the rainbow diffraction to show up. The spheres are overlapping a bit because some of them are probably air, since I vigorously stirred up the water to make the droplets as small as possible. I have a Manfrotto 3021BPro tripod, which allows the center column to be removed and mounted sideways, so the camera could be positioned directly over my work surface, in this case the black glass of the range top. Initially, I was using the Sigma 28-105, but the working distance was right on the fine edge and the zoom was creeping from the camera facing almost straight down, so I switched to the Mamiya 80mm Macro with extension tube. Most of these are shot at f4 because depth isn’t really necessary for this.

oil droplets suspended in water in a shallow glass pan with illuminated CD beneath
The angle of the flashlight was crucial for the various effects, and being close to aiming directly down from alongside the camera seemed to give better diffraction from the CD and sharper contrast, though for a couple of these images I boosted that slightly, because GIMP is a household ingredient too.

I recommend letting the pan sit undisturbed for a while, to eliminate the residual motion of the water and let the smaller air bubbles combine and surface, but don’t hesitate to experiment with the motion if you like, as well as shifted focus and perhaps even other substances, especially with color; oil in a very shallow layer of red wine, perhaps. Go nuts. My next attempt may be water or glycerin drops atop a glass sheet suspended much higher above… I dunno, something colorful and dynamic, perhaps a print, perhaps a collection of marbles, who knows?

[I’ve never tried the stuff yet, but glycerin is supposed to bead better and not evaporate, and is often used as ‘sweat’ or ‘dew in photography and videography, so give it a try if you like. But this time, only if you have it handy already, because the holiday doesn’t allow purchasing extra props or materials.]

vegetable oil drops in water in a shallow glass pan, backlit by illuminated CD
The funny thing is, these are very two-dimensional, flat images since the droplets are all at the water surface, but the differing sizes and contrast kind of disguises that in some of the images, doesn’t it? As yet, I haven’t figured out a way to make it more three-dimensional easily, save for using spider webs like here, and that required one of those spiders that spin haphazard, messy webs – not something that I’m likely to find right now.

vegetable oil suspended in water in a shallow glass pan, backlit by illuminated CD
Anyway, experiment away today, because it’s required by law if you own a camera and I’d hate for you to do jail time, but I’m also a snitch and I’m not covering for your ass. I mean, we both know you’re not gonna top these, yet it’s only mandated that you try, and it’s a good learning experience anyway. Have fun!