I try to avoid Michaels Arts & Crafts store like a recovering alcoholic avoiding a bar. I spend way too much time and money there everytime I set foot inside that delectably detestable consumer trap. But one excursion yielded what turned out to be a very creative purchase – AquaGems “Liquid Marbles”. I’ve seen these used in flower arrangements, but had no idea what they were. But as I strolled past the bridal section in Michaels, I saw a vase with them in and promptly stopped and started asking questions of the lady who was making up fake floral arrangements. According to the AquaGems website, they’re made of a polymer that absorbs, stores, and releases water – and they look totally cool! I’ve always been fascinated with translucent / transparent / refractive materials, so these were more than intriguing. The right side of my brain began going into creative overdrive. After hydrating them with water, I gleefully started using them for some experimental shots, the first ones being as props for some jewelry photographs.
All photos © Colleen D. Gjefle
I then used them as the star attraction in some super-macro photographs. I used my trusty Sigma 50mm F2.8 EX DG Macro lens connected to all three sections of my Pro Optic Budget Auto Extension Tube Set. This gave me some absolutely incredible magnification, which can’t be appreciated until you see the actual size of the AquaGems –
Here’s what my setup looked like – my Canon 5D Mark II on a tripod, and the Sigma lens with the extension tubes. The end of the lens was anywhere from 1″ to 3″ away from the AquaGems. It’s tricky getting really good depth of field with macro photography, so to maximize it, I had my aperture set to f/25 for all but a couple of the photos below. The ISO was 100 and the exposure times were between 2 to 8 seconds (hence the need for a tripod). To help keep things as sharp as possible, I also had the camera set to lock-up the mirror with a 2-second shutter delay. Note – depending on your lens, you may or may not be able to get as close as I can, even with extension tubes. The little Sigma I have focuses very close even without extension tubes attached.
Photos were taken on a mirror, with fake flowers and a pomegranate positioned behind the AquaGems. It took some repositioning to get an effect I liked, including having my hand in a couple of the shots. In order to get the AquaGems in focus, I found it easiest to gently nudge them around with my finger. I found that I could have the AquaGems in focus, but whatever was showing inside may or may not be in focus, depending on how close the object was to the AquaGem. Sometimes having the reflected object sharply in focus just didn’t give me the overall effect I wanted, so I would then opt for the flower or fruit showing inside the AquaGem being a little soft. These first ones I took with the AquaGems sitting on a thin layer of water, which created some interesting reflective and refractive effects: Then I dried off the mirror and these next shots make the AquaGems look like little crystal balls. Next time I do this I’ll change my lighting setup somewhat because in some of the shots you can obviously see my softboxes reflecting in the AquaGems. But considering how small these little orbs are in the first place (only about 1/4″ in diameter), I wasn’t being too finicky about the lighting! I can’t tell you how much fun I had making these photos. It’s so satisfying to create photos in a different way, trying a different technique, just playing around and just seeing “what happens if I do this”. Try it – you might be pleasantly surprised!