Photograph Morning Dew

Dewdrops are one of the magical signs of summer. I love going outdoors in the early morning and seeing drops of water clinging to the flora in my wife's garden. It's also a wonderful photographic subject--it's hard not to smile when you see a water drop clinging to a flower. In the past, we've talked about how to take close-ups; this week, let's focus specifically on capturing dew up close.

Fake It

Let me begin by saying that there's absolutely no reason why you need to get up with the roosters and try these photos only in the early morning. Dewdrops are just water--so all you need is a spray bottle and you can set the stage any time it's convenient for you.

Most of the time, you will want to try to get some large drops to cling to the edges. Spray too much, and the water will run off. Spray the flower lightly and wait a moment for the water to run and collect. If you don't like the results, spray a little more.

As you shoot, the water will continue to accumulate and run off, so you should keep the spray bottle handy to refresh the flower as you go.

Use a Tripod

By now you're probably sick of hearing me recommend a tripod, but it's a really good idea to use one for these close-ups. The closer you are to your subject, the smaller your depth of field will be, and that means you might only have a fraction of an inch of sharp focus in your frame. A tripod is essential to getting a clear image.

Taking the Shot

Of course, you'll want to set your camera to its macro mode (usually identified with a tulip icon) or, if you have a digital SLR, use a macro lens. I've had a 105mm macro lens for years, and it's without a doubt my single favorite lens.

If your camera gives you control over the aperture, be sure to use it. A small aperture (which corresponds to a large number, like f/11 or f/22) has a couple of important effects on your photo. Because the aperture doesn't let much light in, it means the shutter speed will be slow, which could cause a blurry photo if there's a breeze blowing your flower around. But it also gives you a relatively large depth of field. That will make more of the background identifiable. A large aperture (small number, like f/4) lets you shoot with a faster shutter speed, but blurs almost all of the photo due to a very small depth of field.

Which do you need for a good dewdrop photo? It depends, but more depth of field is often better than less when you're shooting such a small subject. Check out these two photos.

Here, you can see the result of a small aperture. The image on the left was shot at f/16, and it manages to keep the whole droplet in focus.

The photo on the right is basically the same scene, taken with a large aperture (f/4). Notice that the depth of field is so precarious that in this second shot the front of the drop is in sharp focus, but the drop is already blurring towards the back. Now that's a narrow depth of field!

Getting Fancy

Once you take a few dewdrop photos, you might want to start experimenting. One popular trick is to get some color--or even an image of another flower--in the droplet. It's actually really easy to do. All you have to do is position another flower behind the flower, and move it around until you see it in the drop through the viewfinder.

Remember that the water acts like a lens, though, so left and right are reversed. If you see the flower on the right edge of the droplet and want to center it, move it further to the right to get it to appear to move left in the droplet. In the photo on the left, I used a flower to add a subtle splash of color to a dewdrop.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This Week's Hot Pic: "Monarch," by Greg Borchert, Germantown, Maryland

Greg says that he took this close-up of a Monarch butterfly with his Nikon D50.

This Week's Runner-Up: "American Flag" by Janell Moore, La Mesa, California

Janell took this photo at Pearl Harbor using a Sony CyberShot DSC-P200.

To see last month's Hot Pics, visit our slide show. Visit our Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

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