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The effect seen in this image is popular among garden photographers and most of the time vintage lenses are used. In this case the m42 helios-44m 58mm f2, a lens which i ordered and am anxiously waiting to try out.

I've tried a few times to shoot garden shots against the light source and while sprinkling water, etc with both the Canon f/1.4 50mm and Canon f/2.8 100mm L macro lenses but was never able to achieve such intense, large and perfectly circular highlights.

Can anyone provide the basic recipe on how this is achieved?

Photo source and credit: Frozen 2 by Hana Balasova

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    Not sure what technique is used, but it does look to me as though the water drops are quite some distance behind the flower. In my mind though, the big out-of-focus drops implies that they should be much nearer to the camera, which then makes me wonder whether it is actually a composite image? – laurencemadill May 20 '15 at 13:30
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    I don't know what do you mean by vintage lenses, and what is the relation with garden photography. I don't see the conection. – Rafael May 20 '15 at 21:32
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I've done similar through rain spotted windows before, so basically the way I would tackle this is with a sheet of clear glass, perhaps from a picture frame, treated with something like Rain-X so that water will bead and then spray it with some water. You could also probably use something like glycerin. Then, basically, shoot through the glass.

  • Thanks John. Will give it a go with a piece of glass. I will try it then post some results. I will also try some shots with the same lens (once it arrives) with and without glass and compare. – Jakub Sisak GeoGraphics May 21 '15 at 18:26
  • @Jakub - I'll be curious to see your results, you may need to play around with it a bit. – John Cavan May 21 '15 at 18:29
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making this photo was not as complicated as you write here. Sprayer, reflector plate, backlight in the morning, f 2. Drops of water flew before the flower, but above all behind the flower. That is all. Everything is the work of a genius lens :-) More photos taken with old lenses can be found on my site. Hana

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    It's always great when the actual photographer shows up to answer questions about their work! – mattdm Dec 3 '17 at 18:34
  • @mattdm Indeed. If there's ever a case of "this should be the accepted answer", it's this one. =) – scottbb Dec 4 '17 at 1:23
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A few thoughts.

  • the depth of focus is quite small: this is shot with a low f-number (probably < 4)
  • different drops have different degrees of "out of focus" (there are some drops that look like they are almost in focus)
  • many of the drops are not perfect circles

Based on these three observations, I am concluding that not all the drops were the same distance from the lens; however, the non-circular drops were almost certainly stuck to some piece of glass - probably not the lens, as with that low f number they would almost certainly be too far out of focus.

I going to guess that this was shot while there was some water in the air, and through a piece of glass. This could happen naturally if you were taking a picture of a flower in the garden (or more likely, the window box) while you are inside, and it is raining. Of course it might have been "staged" - but those are the elements I see in this picture.

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The effect you are seeing is called Bokeh. It is how a lens renders out of focus highlights. While glass aberrations and coatings play a part, the blurred highlights tend to take on the shape of the aperture. They are, after all, basically the inverse of a shadow cast by the aperture into the film or sensor.

Since the effect is heightened by shallow depth of field and since depth of field gets shallower with wider apertures, bokeh tends toward circular shapes. However, a small reduction of a modern bladed aperture will reveal a more polygonal structure. Shooting wide open and using a faster shutter speed will give the circular shape.

The size of the highlights is a combination of the size of the light source from which they originate and the brightness of that light source. A fine mist with reflected flash is capable of producing both large and small bokeh. They key is how distant the drops from the center of focus, not the distance of the drop from the lens.

You should be able to get this effect with any lens, although with today's lenses the effect is more dependent on the aperture then lens aberration because the quality of the glass and the coatings has improved over the years.

This is a bit outside the scope of your question but since the bokeh tends to take on the shape of the aperture, it is possible to use cut-outs in front of the lens while shooting wide open to manufacture specific shapes for your bokeh. I once cut a cross shape into a filter mask to obtain cross-shaped bokeh and it worked quite well. In the image below, I tried to get the feel of lotus flowers by using a filter mask into which I'd cut the main shape but left a small spot in the center. Note that the bokeh on the figure's cap also reflect the same shape, but are quite small due to their proximity to the field of focus.

Lotus-shaped bokeh

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