Shooting Portraits With a Lens Made Only of a Drop of Water

Just when you thought you needed that crazy portrait lens, along comes someone shooting with nothing more than a drop of water. Check out this cool portrait series shot in a very unique way.

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Shot for SPA Nederland, a bottled water company, this series uses some fun science to shoot a series of portraits. The scientists essentially placed a diaphragm in front of a sensor to control aperture, then put a piece of glass with water-repellant coating on top of it. The coating causes droplets sitting on it to form a spherical shape. After this, an electrostatic field was applied, which varied the eccentricity of the drop (how much it resembled an ellipsoid vs a spherical shape). This in turn allowed the drop to be focused (you can see this when Photographer Robin de Puy adjusts the voltage dial). The results are impressively good, and they certainly provide a intriguing look at a promising new way to build lenses in the future (this method is currently being developed in several places). 

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Errol McGihon's picture

Beautiful portraits! Will have to do some research on how feasible this would be to replicate the tech.

Ben Perrin's picture

Wow, that's really cool!

jurian kriebel's picture

Robin de Puy is one of those who makes me proud to be Dutch.

mike brassey's picture

Hi to everyone member ,late in joining but an avid follower for some time! so here goes my first 10 cents worth.
"how much it resembled an ellipsoid vs a spherical shape"
mmm come on alex as an m s in applied maths you should know that an ellipsoid CAN also be a spherical shape.Although its not clear in the video how this lens is oriented i believe you are commenting the outline/shape of the lens rather than its refractive surfaces which is therefore rather meaningless ie if you wear glasses imagine taking a lens out and cutting across its diameter .You still have similar refractive qualities but its shape /outline is different..The drop of water used forms a liquid" meniscus"(greek for crescent)on the plate which also happens to be same word used to define a spherical lens {as against toroidal ,aspheric etc) ..........strange eh .I also believe that "eccentricity" of the drop has not changed ie it is still 0 {circle} .All thats happened is the spherical radius has changed making it a stronger or weaker lens.How can a non spherical "ellipsoid" lens on its own be made to focus across its whole diameter ?So can you please design me a liquid ONE lens system that focuses across its whole diameter without using a spherical surface. Alex ,a reply showing me i am wrong would be greatly appreciated

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Alex Cooke's picture

Yes of course an ellipsoid can be a sphere. That's the difference between mathematical and colloquial language, but to write out every logical case would be inappropriate in this context. It's like that old joke: "a mathematician walks into a car dealership and says: 'I want a red or a blue car, but not both.'" Also, there are a few papers out there that show the equilibrium shape of a drop of water in an electrostatic field can indeed have a non-zero eccentricity. As for the vertical shooting, yes, some sort of mirror was used, but I don't think that matters since it wasn't functioning as a lens. Thanks for joining!

mike brassey's picture


mike brassey's picture


mike brassey's picture

sorry you replied before i finished editing and thanks for the welcome ........still getting used to the site!! totally agree that the equilibrium shape of a drop of water in an electrostatic field CAN indeed have a non-zero eccentricity.I hate to repeat it but please explain how a liquid single lens system can focus over its whole diameter without having a spherical surface and i quote again "how much it resembled an ellipsoid vs a spherical shape" If you cant show me a design for this then it follows that your" ellipsiod " is ACTUALLY part of a spherical ellipsiod and the quote is just unnecessary verbaige .To be at my most pedantic the glass { without accounting for glass/ water differing refractive indices }also acts as part of the lens even though the surfaces are plano because lens thickness is also a function of lens power and the glass will make the lens a different power to the water lens" magically " held in air . I have had disscusions with many people on this,mainly with regard to sensor stack thickness, with most people not getting their head around the idea that a plano/plano surface with converging rays influences the focal point . As an aside i also used to be very interested in riding having had a father who was in the cavalry and actually went to war on a horse{ww1} but i now live on a sailing boat instead.........well at least i dont play golf!!!

Alex Cooke's picture

Take a close look at the portraits; I don't think they're focused across the entire diameter, though it's hard to tell watching the video (look at the monitor she's using). That being said, if the electrostatic field is uniform in the plane, of course the horizontal cross sections will be circular; it'll be the z-axis that creates the ellipsoidal shape.

mike brassey's picture

Beat me to the post again...........too fast for an old man!!!! i agree that maybe all is not in focus ....depth of field ? and yes z axis but this is still part of a SPHERICAL ellipsoidal . A vertical cross section of the lens will also be part spherical with a "plano base" . So are there ANY non spherical surfaces in this lens?I hate to answer myself but there are none.To put it very simply my argument is that the front surface of this water lens MUST be "reasonably" spherical to be able to achieve any "reasonable" focus across a "reasonable"diameter.Did i get a hint of you agreeing with me in the last post or is it my imagination!!!

Roland Korg's picture

Sorta off-topic, but does anyone know what brand/model she's using as the key light? The flat 'dish' with the control panel on the back? [Not the Profoto through the umbrella.] @1:20, @1:42, etc.

NEVER MIND. I think it's the Fotodiox C700.