I am planning a scene with water spilled on a floor or desk. The floor and desks have designs which will be distracting for my shot.
I am thinking of placing a paper sheet as a back drop.

Which colour of the paper will suit most for showing up the water on the paper?

The lights which I have are shade table lamp with yellow light, an emergency light with white tubelights, candles, and a white tubelight on the wall.

How much should be the minimum or maximum shooting distance for the spilled water to show up?

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    "How much should be the minimum or maximum shooting distance for the spilled water to show up?": This seems like it's going to depend on a lot of factors... the lens... apature settings... how bright the lights are... choice of colour... how much water it is... maybe you need to just spill it and experiment...
    – forsvarir
    Mar 23 '12 at 12:31
  • @forsvarir I have mentioned the lights I have. Well, which aperture setting should be used for it? Mar 23 '12 at 12:32
  • "Which colour of the paper will suit most for showing up the water on the paper?" - Depends what effect you're going for, but if you want it to sit on top (rather than soak in), you'll also need to think about the quality/type of paper (slightly waxed for example would give you more time to work with)...
    – forsvarir
    Mar 23 '12 at 12:33
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    I think experiment is the way to go. You'll get the right answer eventually, learn a lot doing it, and hopefully have fun. And post the results in a comment here! Mar 23 '12 at 12:49
  • @forsvarir Actually, I want it to sit on the top. Mar 23 '12 at 13:32

I think you need to try a few things and see what works for you as ultimately it seems to boil down artistic choice. What is the picture that you’ve got in your head that you want to try to produce?

Some colours may work better (my guess would be lighter colours), however I suspect any colour could be made to work. If you have a dark, non-reflective surface, then positioning your lights may create reflections in the water / help to instil it with a presence. With lighter colours you may be able to create a similar effect by adding some colour to one or more of your lights (blue tissue paper / gels for example)...

Having an object as part of the composition (possibly the source of the spill) may also give opportunities for showing reflections in the water to give it more presence.

Different types of paper are going to have a different effect on the water. Tissue paper is very absorbent, crate paper can have a matt finish, wrapping paper can be more water resistant but is often shiny. Having a slight pattern in the paper may help to emphasize the presence of the water if you can get it to distort the pattern. You may find that you can get a better balance between colour/reflection/absorbency by opting for card rather than paper.

As for how close, again it’s very subjective. If you zoom in all the way in the centre of the spill you may not be able to tell that it’s there. However from the same distance if you zoom out there’s a good chance you will... If your focus were the edge of the spill however you may be able to tell at both ends of the zoom... Your angle to the spill is going to impact how much water the light goes through between the camera and the surface which is going to change how visible the water appears.

It sounds like a fun project, but really I think you need to experiment a bit, try a few different options and see what is closest to the picture you’ve got in your head.

As it's water week, I did a bit of experimenting and for me, I thought darker colours with a bit of a reflective tint seemed to work the best.

This one's some water in a teflon pan. It caught the light well and showed an obvious water edge. Water in Pan

I shot another pan, which was much lighter with a matt finish and the water is far less obvious: Wataer in light pan

I quite lighted the effect of water on foil (the less shiny side) Water on foil

But largely, I think it's more the angle that you shoot the water at that makes the edge of the 'spill' more obvious. Water on paper

  • That last picture is great. Nice job.
    – J. Walker
    Mar 24 '12 at 0:57

I cannot answer this directly as I don't have experience, however I would highly recommend checking out the book "Light: Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting", which actually goes pretty deep into how light works at different angles of reflection, which may provide some insight here.

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