Swirling multicoloured patterns of soap in water.

MACRO PHOTOGRAPHY

Abstract macro photography: shooting soap bubbles at home

Making vibrant abstract images of the surface of soap film allows you to flex your creativity with a macro lens and step away from the traditional. We'll show you how easy it is to create striking images in the comfort of your own home or garden. For this technique you'll need a macro lens, and ideally a tripod and remote shutter release – if you have a Wi-Fi-enabled camera, such as the Canon EOS 90D, you can use the Canon Camera Connect app on your smartphone to frame the shot and trigger the shutter. For the most controllable lighting, it's handy to use an external flash such as one of the Canon Speedlite range.

Get prepared

A camera set up to photograph a desk with books on the top.
A black t-shirt forms a makeshift backdrop for this flash setup and a stack of books is used to hold the twisted metal coat hanger in place once the hoop has been dipped into the solution. You may want to use cellophane wrap to cover the books, as this technique can get messy.

Set up a sheet of black card or black fabric to use as your background. A macro lens with a focal length of 100mm is ideal, but any macro lens will do the job, including the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM or the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM. If you're using a Canon EOS R System camera, the Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM lens is ideal, or with a Canon EOS M series camera, the Canon EF-M 28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM. Any of these will be great for this technique and enable you to capture the intricate details.

To make a long-lasting soap film, mix washing-up liquid or liquid soap with some glycerine (you can find this in a pharmacy, in the baking aisle of a supermarket or online). Start with a mixture of about 80% detergent and 20% glycerine, and add a little water. You will also need a small loop of wire that you can dip into the mixture – a length of metal coat hanger bent into shape works well for this. Lift the loop out flat and the soap film should cling to the wire.

Lighting

Play around with the lighting until you find the best position – you will probably need to take a few test shots to work out where that is.

You can use either daylight or flash for this technique, but the vivid colours are only visible when the soap film is lit from the front at a slight angle. Try moving around so you can use the light from a window or a lamp to shine onto the solution.

If you're using your camera's built-in flash unit to wirelessly trigger a compatible Canon Speedlite, the feature can be activated in the main menu. The Canon Speedlite will also need to be set to Receiver mode. Using an off-camera Canon Speedlite such as the Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI gives you more control over the direction of the light. Try bouncing the light off a white wall, low ceiling or even a sheet of white card or polystyrene held above the camera and pointing down onto the soap film in order to diffuse the light (as shown here).

Shooting

Use a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of the swirling soap – this will vary according to the speed of the colours. Take a test shot, and set a faster shutter speed or higher ISO if the patterns are blurred.

For consistent results, set the camera to Manual mode. Using the fast burst of bounced light from a Canon Speedlite can help you achieve the sharpest images but make sure the flash sync speed is the same as the shutter speed (you can find this information in your camera's manual). On this Canon EOS 800D, the flash sync speed is 1/200 sec. To increase the depth of field, set a small aperture setting, such as f/11 or f/16, and start with a low ISO in the region of 100-400.

If you're using ambient light instead of flash, you may need to increase the ISO and fire the camera using the self-time function or a remote control in order to get sharp results.

Experiment

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A person tapping the screen of an EOS camera.
Tapping the touchscreen of an EOS camera is a convenient way to bring the patterns into focus.

If there's not enough light for the camera to achieve autofocus, manually focus the lens with the aid of the magnified Live View display or the EVF of an EOS mirrorless camera. To avoid jarring the camera, fire the shutter using a remote release, or using the Canon Camera Connect app if your camera has Wi-Fi. Try blowing gently on the soap film to make the patterns swirl. Don't worry if you can't get close enough to fill the frame with the ever-changing patterns – simply crop to a tighter composition in Digital Photo Professional or similar photo editing software.

Gently blowing on the soap created the swirls in this image, taken on a Canon EOS 800D with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens, using light from the Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI bounced off white card.

For more photography tips, tricks and ideas, download the Canon Photo Companion app for iOS or Android.

Written by Marcus Hawkins and Tamzin Wilks

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