My year-long daily photo project is soon coming to a close. Naturally, I couldn’t let the year slip by without attempting a photograph involving glycerin, a drinking straw, and rainbow spirals.
To make this image, I used a piece of colourful paper, propped up vertically, as the background. In front of it, I balanced a drinking straw across the tops of two cups (off-camera) so it would lie horizontally. Earlier, I had purchased glycerin at the drugstore for a few bucks (there had been no small size on the shelf, so I was stuck with a giant bottle). I placed a few drops onto the middle of the straw and let gravity pull them downward.
Being more viscous than water, the glycerin dangled from the straw long enough for even a slowpoke like me to mess around with my camera settings and make several pictures. I don’t have a macro lens, so I used a screw-on close-up filter on my regular lens, with a narrow aperture (f/22 in this shot) to try to get as much of each droplet in focus as possible.
Refraction – not reflection, I learned – is at play here. As the light passes through the glycerin droplet, it bends and renders the image in the droplet upside-down, though it’s not obvious in my example because the background is a circular pattern. Had I used a background image of a recognizable object, I would’ve propped it upside-down so that it would’ve appeared right-side-up in the droplet.
The fun thing about experimenting is that it nearly always provokes the maker into asking, “What if…?” What if I used a photograph, a landscape, or a manuscript as the backdrop? What if the composition included only one droplet, or a hundred droplets? What if the medium wasn’t a droplet at all but a wine glass or a crystal ball?
Wait. What if I needed another year to tackle a refraction photography project alone?!
Well, in that case, at least I’d have plenty of glycerin.