Day five of #amyshuttphotoaday, a photography project for this month coordinated by Amy Shutt of Amy Shutt Photography, was a treat! The theme today is "water."
Water is everywhere on our planet. It is the driver of life. We look for water on other celestial bodies as the first sign that life may abound elsewhere.
When we think of water, we typically think of liquid water: a glass of water, a pond, a dripping facet, a fountain, a blue swimming pool. Some of us may think of rain. But water can take on many different states, including liquid, solid (ice), and gas. If I say "water," do you think of clouds? Because clouds are actually "collections of tiny particles of water and/or ice that are large enough to be visible." For today's challenge to photograph "water," I wanted to push the envelope of what we normally think of when we think of water.
Steam is a term for the gaseous phase of water, which is formed when water boils. Steam is invisible; however, "steam" often refers to the visible mist or aerosol of water droplets formed as this water vaporcondenses. At lower pressures, such as in the upper atmosphere or at the top of high mountains, water boils at a lower temperature than the nominal 100 °C (212 °F) at standard temperature and pressure. If heated further it becomes superheated steam. - Wikipedia
Funny things can happen at the intersection of water states. This video shows a fascinating process whereby in extremely cold conditions, hot water can almost instantly freeze into tiny ice crystals combined with small droplets of water - or in other words, form a "cloud." Hot water may even freeze faster than cold water due to what is mysteriously called the Mpemba effect.
Because they're so hot, those tiny water droplets start to vaporize. But since cold air can't hold as much water vapor as warmer air, the water condenses. Extremely cold temperatures quickly freeze the water droplets, which fall as ice crystals. - National Geographic
But let's get back to today's photography challenge. For today's shot, I challenged myself with photographing the water vapor that twirls and dances off of your morning cup of coffee or tea - especially on a cold morning.
I've tried photographing hot cups of tea before, but have never achieved the visualization of water vapor that I did today. This shot required several special conditions, including a dark background against which the water vapor rising from the hot cup is visible to the camera, and a light source to illuminate the vapor while leaving the background dark. Light from a light source bounces back and forth between the dense collection of evaporated droplets of water over the cup of tea, producing an opaque vapor that you can see.
So I took a trip to Hobby Lobby. I bought a black presentation board - the kind you might have used for your science fair projects in middle school, and several pieces of black mat-board. I also needed a light source. I thought about a flashlight, but didn't have a good idea of how to stabilize the flashlight in a useful direction without a helping hand. So I went for my external flash unit. Using a flash cord, I set up the external flash so that it hit my subject (a hot cup of tea) from the side without illuminating my background. To prevent the flash from spreading out and hitting my background presentation board, I grabbed something that would funnel the light coming from my flash unit (which happened to be a large lens hood!).
To get the shot featured in this blog post, I had my camera in aperture priority mode with a dialed-in aperture of f/8.0 (40mm lens on Canon 5D Mark III). The aperture doesn't matter much in this case, but I made it high enough such that the background remained dark with an as-low-as-it-goes flash intensity, an ISO of 100 and a shutterspeed of 1/320 seconds.
This shot required me to work fast - I boiled water in a tea kettle, and had to rush the hot cup of tea to my set-up for shooting to get a good visualization of the evaporating water droplets. The visualization seemed to work best the first time around, when the cup was still cool (at least at room temperature) before adding the hot water to it. (It probably also works better on a cold day!)
In post-processing in Lightroom, I darkened the background and selectively "painted" the vapor with a highlight and clarify brush, just to accentuate the light that the vapor caught from the flash.
Do you like the result? Have questions? Just ask!