How I Create My Oil & Water Abstracts

Of all the questions I get asked about my photographs, How to do the oil and water abstracts is the question I get asked the most.

Just the other day someone asked how do I get lots of bubbles and not have the oil just flatten out into 1 or 2 bubbles……..’Washing up liquid’.

After a lot of experimenting I found that adding a little washing up liquid to the water stopped the oil flattening out and gave me lots of oil bubbles.


Set Up

• Glass tumbler (Make sure the base is clear with no writing/markings)

• Olive oil

• Water

• Background. This can be anything. For these shots I have used colourful feathers.

Feathers used for abstract macro photography

 Or you could try, wrapping paper, coloured paper or lighting gels.

Coloured lighting gels used for abstract macro photography


Canon 7D

• Canon EFS 60mm f/2.8 macro lens

• Canon EF25 II extension tubes

• Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX flash


Place coloured paper, feathers etc. under the glass. Add a little washing up liquid and a few drops of olive oil.

Oil and water set-up Close up of oil and water set-up.


Typical setting I use for these shots:

• ISO 100

• Aperture f/16 – f/18

• Shutter speed 1/250

• Manual focus

• Manual flash

Macro of oil and water

Or you could try a wider aperture of f/3.5 for a different look.

Macro of oil and water

If you are not using a macro flash you could try additional lighting maybe a lamp, a higher ISO, slower shutter speed (tripod would be needed for this) and a wider aperture. These sorts of shots are all about having fun and experimenting.

Finally: check the photographs for dust. No matter what I do, I always seem to get tiny bits of dust in the water. I remove these in Photoshop with the healing tool. I also often add a little contrast to make the colours pop a little more.

I have kept this blog quite short. If there is anything I haven’t covered, please feel free to get in touch with me or leave a comment.

Thank you for your visit.


More Oil & Water Abstracts









This entry was posted in Techniques.


  1. steve 23 March 2012 at 7:38 pm #

    Hi Sharon,

    Thanks for sharing some of your techniques.

    Great blog, a real feast for the eyes.

    • sharon 23 March 2012 at 7:42 pm #

      Hi Steve, Thanks for all your help 🙂

  2. Anthony M. Davis 24 March 2012 at 3:48 pm #

    Hi Sharon,

    Thank You for sharing this.It made for a nice read. I’m always impressed with the creative work you do. I can’t wait to see what’s next. 🙂

    ~ Tony

    • sharon 24 March 2012 at 6:36 pm #

      Hi Tony,
      Thank you so much for the visit. I am thrilled you enjoyed the blog :))

  3. dayna 4 April 2012 at 4:55 am #

    Found your photography by way of Pinterest. I love all of your work! Thank you for sharing your Oil and Water techniques!

    • sharon 4 April 2012 at 6:19 pm #

      Thank you for your kind words dayna 🙂

  4. Rhianne 5 April 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Awww waw! I’m delighted to have discovered your amazing work. Absolutely beautiful and ooozing creativity.

    I’m not a photographer but honestly if I could achieve anything near these results, I’m inspired to pack myself off onto an intensive photography course. Macro is definitely my passion.

    Would you know of any such course?

    Warmest regards,
    Rhianne (aka @LadyBizBiz on Twitter)

    p.s. I’m sharing your wonderful work with the whole of my extensive digital network.

    • sharon 5 April 2012 at 10:34 am #

      Hi Rhianne,
      Thank you so much for your lovely comments 🙂

      Thank you again Rhianne 🙂

  5. Anne-Lise 5 April 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    Hi Rhianne!

    Thanks for sharing your tip about how to make your abstract oil & water pictures. They are really amazing, and I find them very interesting! I really do like the way you make the background; using feathers and different papers! 🙂

    I`ve had a look in your gallery too, and I`m curious about how you make your drops so big and round? What do you use to make it that way? Hopefully I`ll get some good advices about this! I`ve tried using “glyserol”, but I don`t get that kind of size on the drops, and I don`t make the drops to hang on like you do…


    • sharon 5 April 2012 at 3:18 pm #

      Hi Anne-Lise,
      Thank you for your visit and kind words.
      I just use plain water which I either spray on or for single drops I use a small medicine syringe. In terms of them staying put….sometimes they don’t!! 🙂

  6. Norton 5 April 2012 at 8:32 pm #

    Hiya Sharon,
    You’ve made it onto my “oh sod” list of breathtaking photographers! Hope you keep up the beautiful work 🙂


    • sharon 5 April 2012 at 8:52 pm #

      Hi Norton,

      Thank you so much 🙂 Putting together some new work as we speak 🙂

  7. Marta Brysha 6 April 2012 at 3:37 am #

    Hi Sharon, I have just discovered your website and blog. Your macro photographs are excellent and inspiring. Thank you for the information on photographing oil on water.

    I too see the world in a “macro” fashion, however my medium is hand embroidery.

    To see my work you can go to my website or blog (

    I look forward to following your blog

    • sharon 7 April 2012 at 8:09 am #

      Hi Marta,
      Thank you so much for your visit and kind words. Your work is very beautiful!

  8. Marta Brysha 7 April 2012 at 8:34 am #

    Thanks for taking a look Sharon

  9. JoeR 10 April 2012 at 9:06 pm #

    Hi Sharon… beautiful images… after looking for some time, I cannot determine what is in the circular support of water drops in your macro titled “shower blue”?

    • sharon 10 April 2012 at 10:05 pm #

      Hi JoeR,
      The image ‘Shower Blue’ was shot against a plain background. Any reflection in the drops is the Dandelion seed. Is this what you meant?
      Thank you so much for your visit 🙂

  10. Hiram Garigliano 9 May 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    Super-Duper website! I am loving it!! Will come back again. I am taking your feeds also

    • sharon 9 May 2012 at 3:43 pm #

      Hi Hiram, thank you for the visit and thank you for your kind words 🙂

  11. patrick dinneen 9 May 2012 at 4:22 pm #

    Wow is what I have to say! I found your website through boredpanda website.

    Great, stunning macro photos. I bought a Pentax 100mm 1:1 macro lens recently and am learning (it’s a steep learning curve).

    Your photos are an inspiration to me. Will have to try out the abstract bubbles soon.
    love the morning dew ones too.
    Do you have any post with general macro tips?

    • sharon 9 May 2012 at 4:27 pm #

      Hi Patrick,
      Thank you for your wonderful comments. 🙂
      Macro photography is very addictive. Definately have a go at the oil & water abstracts!!
      I am working on my next post. It is going to cover extension tubes and the MPE 65mm macro lens. Come back and have a look 🙂

  12. Janel Releford 11 May 2012 at 7:52 am #

    Definitely, what a fantastic website and illuminating posts, I will bookmark your website.Best Regards!

    • sharon 11 May 2012 at 9:35 am #

      Hi Janel, thank you for you visit 🙂

  13. Morgane 24 May 2012 at 7:22 pm #


    I found your website because your photos had been shared on Tumblr. I wanted to congratulate you for those amazing pictures. It’s just… woaw ! I’ve watched all the galleries, photo by photo. You’ve done an awesome job, really. I just wanted to tell you that, because it’s people like you who make me love more and more photography. I’m 16, and I’d like to be a photograph later, but I know it’s very difficult at these days… People like you give me hope 🙂

    Forgive me for my bad english, I’m from Switzerland 😛

    … Woaw !

    • sharon 24 May 2012 at 7:42 pm #

      Hi Morgane,
      Thank you so much for your visit and kind words. Good luck with your photography 🙂

  14. Debbie 7 September 2012 at 6:25 pm #

    Thank you so much for the tutorial Sharon. Have to try this! 🙂

    • sharon 7 September 2012 at 8:09 pm #

      Hi Debbie, thank you so much for the visit and good luck with the oil and water abstracts 🙂

  15. Stacey 8 September 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    Hi Sharon:

    First let me start by saying I love your oil and water work. I was intrigued immediately and thought I would give it a go. After trying this out, I have a couple of questions for you. #1. Are you placing the tumbler directly on top of the feathers? Or is there some distance? #2. In your instructions it says to use manual flash. I have tried that and the settings listed but have had no success. Are you using off camera flash? A diffuser? Just curious. Thanks for the great blog, I will keep trying this until I get it right.

    • sharon 10 September 2012 at 8:28 am #

      Hi Stacey,

      Thank you so much for your kind words
      You had a couple of questions: Yes the glass of water goes directly on top of the feathers/or chosen background.
      In terms of flash, I use the Canon Twin-Lite MT-24 II macro flash ( ) I can position the flash heads so that the flash doesn’t bounce back of the water. (If you are using a built in flash try taking the shot at a bit of an angle to avoid this happening) I never use the flash at full strength.
      Hope this helps

      Thanks again and good luck with your oil and water abstracts.

      Best wishes,


  16. Nicolas Raymond 12 September 2012 at 5:25 pm #

    Beautiful oil abstracts! I know some would prefer to keep the process a “trade secret”, so thank you very much for the insight 🙂

  17. Mel 27 November 2012 at 7:09 pm #

    How would I use the washing up liquid in this?
    Do I have to mix it in or something else?

    (I love your work!)

  18. Lauren 29 December 2012 at 2:24 am #

    I am so trying this! I only have a macro adapter for my 35mm lens, not a proper macro lens but I’ll see how it goes!

    • sharon 29 December 2012 at 11:41 am #

      Hi Lauren,
      Thank you so much for your visit. I’m sure a macro adapter will work. These abstracts are very addictive!!

  19. Nick 1 January 2013 at 8:33 am #

    Great works of art!

    • sharon 1 January 2013 at 4:43 pm #

      Hi Nick,
      Thank you so much for your kind words 🙂

  20. Patrick Dinneen 2 January 2013 at 10:37 am #

    Right, this is now on my photography New Years Resolution list. I saw your site in May and said then I’d try it. Now I mean it. Happy New year to you.

    • sharon 3 January 2013 at 10:55 pm #

      Hi Patrick, thank you so much and happy New year 🙂

  21. Boom Ronny 3 January 2013 at 9:35 pm #

    I’m a big favorite of your oil and water work. I showed your photo’s here in Belgium to my friends and they’re also very excited. What do you mean with: position the flash heads so that the flash doesn’t bounce back of the water? Do you flash through a diffusor, against the wall, on the ceiling, against a white paper or just on 45 degrees?

    • sharon 3 January 2013 at 10:54 pm #

      Hi Ronny, thank you so much for your kind words :). I have emailed you about your flash questions.

  22. Amy Knight 4 January 2013 at 8:33 pm #

    i am thrilled to have stumbled upon your work!!!
    i love photography and dabble in it myself..
    …couldn’t have found anyone better for having the same taste!

    • sharon 4 January 2013 at 10:52 pm #

      Hi Amy, thank you so much for your visit 🙂

  23. Vanja 10 January 2013 at 6:25 pm #

    Hello from Slovenia.
    What to say – wuauuuu. I love mornings, and those beautiful pearls, too. But my neck – uf 😉
    I love macro and nature in general, becouse it makes me calm, happy, peaceful. I’m member of Society of Photographers Celje –
    Thanx for sharing your knowledge with us.
    I’ll be back 😉 Vanja Tajnšek

    • sharon 11 January 2013 at 5:01 pm #

      Thank you so much Vanja 🙂

  24. Patrick dinneen 11 January 2013 at 10:11 pm #

    here’s my first attempt, didn’t get that good so added a filter to ‘mask’ it.
    I’ll try it again in better light and experiment with oil/washing up liquid/water ratio

    • sharon 16 January 2013 at 12:40 pm #

      Hi Patrick,
      Thats wonderful! I love seeing photographers oil and water abstracts. I love the effect of the texture you have added to the shot. I have thought about adding a texture to some of mine before.
      Thanks for the link.
      Best wishes, Sharon 🙂

  25. Steve Smith 24 January 2013 at 1:49 pm #

    Hiya Sharon, thnx very much for sharing this with us, this is a technique I am dying to try, but am a little confused by the ‘manual flash’ – do you mount the flashgun on your camera , or how do you trigger it manually

    sorry for being docile


    • sharon 24 January 2013 at 3:44 pm #

      Hi Steve,
      I have emailed you. Hope that helps 🙂

  26. patrick dinneen 24 January 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    Would you ever consider showing some photos of your setup for these shots?
    For me they’d help and it’d be great to see exactly how you set up; type of glass container, how camera is mounted & positioned etc.

  27. Martin 2 March 2013 at 9:44 pm #

    Hi Sharon, I was searching for oil on water macro techniques when I found your photos.
    Most of the demo videos on the web use a fish tank or something big like that, otherwise much the same. I was thinking of using a picture frame after sealing the glass with silicone but a glass tumbler is a great idea, if I can find one with a clear base, no writing. Did you keep the tumbler at some distance above the background or did you just sit it on the colours? Great photos and tips, thanks. Martin

    • sharon 4 March 2013 at 4:29 pm #

      Hi Martin,
      Thank you so much for your comment. I place the glass dirrectly on top of the paper/feathers etc. Hope this helps and thanks again for your visit 🙂

  28. Pauline Muir 16 March 2013 at 8:25 pm #

    Hi Sharon,
    Love your images. I have just purchased a 100mm Canon Macro lens and am finding it difficuly to use.
    Thanks for sharing your work.

  29. Ok_Br 21 March 2013 at 9:46 pm #

    Hi Sharon 🙂

    In Poland we also get to know your amazing … all these 🙂

  30. Stacy 28 August 2013 at 3:57 pm #

    These are beautiful! Thank you for sharing your technique… I’ve always wondered how these were done!

    • sharon 28 August 2013 at 5:42 pm #

      Hi Stacy, thank you, hope it helps 🙂

  31. Carolyn 31 August 2013 at 8:49 pm #

    Your photographs are exquisite. I’m going to try this later today. I found some great glass dishes at IKEA that only have a little writing in one corner so I don’t have to work around the writing in the middle of the dish. Thank you for your helpful tips on shooting oil and water!

    • sharon 6 September 2013 at 10:05 am #

      Hi Carolyn, I’m glad the blog helped 🙂 Finding glasses/dishes without any writing can be tricky, I’m always on the look out for them. Recently I found some tumblers in Asda with no writing, nice and cheap too 🙂

      • Carolyn 7 September 2013 at 5:57 pm #

        Thanks for the reply. I have been experimenting with the oil and water photography and using different backgrounds, including the IKEA catalogue (such vibrant colours) and gift wrap and Japanese papers. This form of photography has also shown me how the different settings on my camera can be used to change the colours and lighting! Love this and again, thank you for posting information about your technique.

  32. Shanon du Plessis 14 January 2014 at 3:41 pm #

    Washing soap! Thanks so much for sharing your technique. I’ve been trying to get my oil and water abstracts to have more bubbles for longer and this will do the trick.

  33. Holli 23 April 2014 at 10:21 pm #

    HI Sharon,

    I discovered your macro water droplet photography through pinterest and am really inspired by your work. Thank you for sharing your set up, I’m looking into getting additional tools in my kit to get even more unclose. I am excited to try new things!

    • sharon 29 April 2014 at 3:07 pm #

      Hi Holli, thank you so much for your visit and kind words 🙂

  34. sarah 1 June 2014 at 7:32 pm #

    Hi Sharon,

    Thank you for such a full description of how to create the oil and water droplets – I can’t wait to give it a go.

    • sharon 3 June 2014 at 10:48 am #

      Hi Sarah, I’m really glad you found it useful. Good luck with your oil and water abstracts 🙂

  35. Cate 17 August 2014 at 3:08 am #

    Hi Sharon
    Your images are beautiful and inspiring. I have been practicing lots, however I can’t seem to get the same 3D look to the bubbles. Mine are quite flat. Any tips… You also seem to have a black outline around the bubbles is that from the macro flash?

  36. Janine 27 August 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    Hi Sharon, Could you clarify what you mean by “washing up liquid” – more specifically what you use? And finally do you have to “stir things up a bit” as well. I’ve done some oil and water compositions but always looking for a way to improve…thank you for your tutorial….

    In my set-up I’ve used a baking dish with water and oil, set over a pattern of paper or fabric(s) about 12-18″ above the material, with my extension tubes and my 70-300mm lens…believe it or not it works…

    Never thought to use a tumbler instead…gonna have to try this now!!!


  37. Glenn 31 December 2014 at 1:23 am #


    I have gotten great results w/ my oil & water images, with the exception of hundreds of tiny bubbles or oil drops that I can’t seem to get rid of in the images.


    • sharon 9 January 2015 at 12:36 pm #

      Hi Glenn,
      Sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. Thank you for your message on my website.
      In terms of the problems with your oil and water shots, I use extension tubes on my macro lens so can focus on just a few oil bubbles. I never mix the water up as it can get messy and I would get lots of little bubbles.
      I also change the water and oil a lot as I find dust sticks to the oil.
      If I do get unwanted marks in the image, I use the healing tool in Photoshop to remove them. Hope this helps.

      • Rosy 27 March 2016 at 5:43 pm #

        Hello there! I am a huge fan of your abstract macro shots of oil in water and have chosen to do this for my A-level exam; using you as my inspirational artist. I just wondered if at some point you could have a look at some of my photographs, give some advice and perhaps answer a few of my queries? Thank you so much, I look forward to hearing from you! ?

  38. Nicola 18 January 2016 at 8:48 pm #

    Love your images! I tried having a go my attempt isnt going so well, I keep getting the droplets blured and I dont know why.

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