Elja Trum

Portraits shot with a drop of water as a lens

tuesday 5 september 2017, 11:16 by | 943 views | 0 comments

For a bottled water company award-winning Dutch photographer Robin de Puy shot a series of portraits with only a drop of water as a lens. And they created a nice video showing how it's done.

Hit the CC-button to activate the English subtitles

Liquid lens camera


Using just a water drop for a lens wasn't easy. Spa, the water company, got help from Hans Feil and Pieter van der Valk from the company Etulipa. They spent several weeks developing the camera (the whole project took over six months). I talked with Pieter and asked him how his camera works.

Liquid lens camera


The liquid lens camera uses a fresh drop of Spa water on a small glass plate coated with teflon (1). The teflon coating allows the water to remain a nice spherical drop without spreading over the plate. By electrifying the plate the drop stretches. By varying the amount of current you can focus the image.

An industrial sensor (measuring 4 by 6 millimeter) with 18 megapixel was used to record the image (2). The image was recorded in colour, but the photographer choose to convert the photos to black and white in post.

A mirror (3) was used to bend the light coming from the front of the camera and send it through the water drop and on to the sensor. The distance between the drop and the sensor was much smaller while taking the photo compared to the distance seen in the image above. The actual distance between the drop and the sensor was about 12 millimeter.

To prevent stray light from entering the camera a small plastic tube (4) was placed over the water drop.


The water drop evaporates during the shoot, so every 15 minutes the plate needed to be cleaned and a new drop had to be applied.

The result


The technique is interesting, of course, but in the end it is all about the results you get. The photographer asked some famous (in the Netherlands) and less famous people to pose for her.

Manuel Broekman and Anna

Photos by Robin de Puy

She took the portraits in a studio in Amsterdam and placed her models in front of a grey background. The liquid camera didn't support flash (although the scientist that built it said he could have added it with a couple of days of extra work) and to get a sharp image a small aperture was needed.

Isis and Zara and Nico and Sjors

Photos by Robin de Puy

This resulted in shutter speeds of about 1/3 of a second. Robin needed her models to stand still or could use the long shutter speeds for creative results.

Personally I think the resulting portraits are great with a soft picturesque quality.

Robin de Puy

Photographer Robin de Puy in front of her photos (shot with an iPhone)


This article was updated on 5 september 2017.
First published on saturday 17 june 2017, 20:20.
Elja Trum

About the author

Elja has a passion for portrait photography. He is the author of a book on black and white photography and owner of Photofacts.nl, the largest Dutch blog about photography. You can follow him and his work on Instagram.

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