Joey Terrill on Turning Ordinary Subjects into Amazing Macro Photos Image stacking, water droplets and water/oil macro images

Nikon Ambassador and LA-based photographer Joey Terrill recently posted a fascinating full lecture as part of the B&H OPTIC 2021 on three different, visually unique techniques for creative macro shooting and we bring you some of the highlights.

Image stacking

There is nothing new about image stacking but in the first part of this video Terrill explains why stacking is different than shooting at high f-numbers and why you need to be very precise when taking images for this type of shooting making sure you have overlaps either manually with a macro rail (like the NiSi macro rail we tested here last year) or use a computerized macro rail the camera’s a built-in stacking mode (which some cameras have).

What Terrill didn’t mention is that when you let the camera shoot stacking shots automatically you should shoot a wider frame than you intend to use since you are going to lose some edges when the camera focuses in (this is less of an issue typically with macro rails).

Terrill also mentions the software he uses to stack shots. We actually use Photoshop which seems to do the job pretty good these days but there are more professional dedicated software which he recommends like Zerene Stacker and helicon focus software that you can also use (all three, in this case, are paid software).

Water droplets

Out of the three the more unique and to us also the most visually appealing technique showcased by Terrill has to do with the special properties of water droplets.

The setup that he has been using includes three different glass elements (Terrill uses a special low iron starphire glass). They are placed at different heights when the top one has the water droplets that are placed carefully with a syringe, the mid-level glass can have any number of objects/shapes that you might want to be reflected in the droplets and the lower one is some sort of colored background.

One option Terrill didn’t mention about the background is using a tablet or even a monitor laying flat to create the background colors/images you want (as well as push some light in).

To put the water droplets on the top glass you should first apply some sort of water repellent layer otherwise your droplets will not have the surface tension to hold (RAIN-X can do the trick just put some on a piece of cloth after you cleaned the glass and let it dry). Using distilled water is also a good idea.

There are many aspects to consider here as the distance of each “layer” lighting (Terrill suggests lighting the two lower layers with strobes/flashes and grids and making sure the droplets will not get lit directly), leveling all three layers (especially the camera in compersion to the water droplets) and much more.

If you spend the time and effort and get really good you can achieve some truly breathtaking results using this technique with relatively basic gear but you will need to be very patient and get very creative with your lighting, props, backgrounds, etc. to get that amazing result.

Oil and water

The final macro technique Terrill talks about in this video is combining water and oil (olive/mineral).

This one is very straightforward, a glass of water with a few drops of oil and a little dish detergent which breaks the oil a little bit creating bubbles.

Lighting is very important here as well as lighting colors and of course, the right composition so plays with the shapes and get creative.

You can find many more macro-related photography videos on our dedicated macro section here on LensVid.

Iddo Genuth
Iddo Genuth is the founder and chief editor of He has been a technology reporter working for international publications since the late 1990's and covering photography since 2009. Iddo is also a co-founder of a production company specializing in commercial food and product visual content.

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