Soap Film Turbulence Photography – Technique


The macro world of thin soap film turbulence photography is awesome; nature is amazing. Being able to capture the beauty of something so ordinary really blows my mind. Give it a try!

Photographing soap film colours and patterns can be tricky. I have tried multiple setups and have settled on a relatively easy setup that can give great results

Here is what you need:

  • Work Table
  • Spare lumber / wood
  • Long Lego pieces
  • Tripod
  • DSLR with Macro Lens (preferably with liveview)
  • Flash with off camera cord or wireless trigger
  • Shoot through white umbrella or diffuser for flash
  • Lighting stand
  • Black cardboard or pieces of plastic
  • Remote shutter release
  • Kitchen dish soap
  • Glycerin
  • A bowl or tall container with large opening
  • C-Clamp or vise clamp

Step 1: Setup a table, that you won’t mind possibly getting wet (a towel wouldn’t hurt either).

Step 2: You need some kind of support post, I used a square piece of board and a piece of lumber that I screwed on as a post. To that I added a small vise clamp. You need this to hold the Lego soap wand, at the correct height

Step 3: (As shown in my setup photo) Build a wand to dip into the soap solution. I found that using regular Lego pieces works well. It’s also easy to adapt it to different setups and sizes. and is pretty rigid.


Step 4. Setup your light source, preferably a flash gun or studio strobe and a way to trigger it (flash cord or wireless trigger). The flash needs a diffuser, something large  like a shoot through umbrella or a light box. Once you have that setup aim it at the Lego wand, at the same height as your camera lens. Pretend the Lego wand is actually a mirror and you want to bounce the light from the flash into your lens.

Step 5. Setup your tripod and cameras with a macro lens (preferably) and aim it at the Lego wand hole. The lens needs to be on a slight angle to the wand, it cant be perfectly dead on straight. the reason for the angle is that you need to see the reflection of the flash in the soap film, if you aim the lens dead on straight to the wand, you wont see the flash. and you wont see any soap film turbulence patterns or colours. Ideally  you want the smallest angle you can get away with so that the lens is as straight as possible to the wand but also at an angle so you see the flash reflection. Due to the shallow depth of field you will be working with, the straighter you get the lens to the wand , the larger the area of the soap film  you will get in focus.


Step 6: Get a container that has a large opening (large enough for the Lego wand to fit in easily from above), fill it 90% full of tap water, container needs to be deep enough to submerge the Lego wand in.

Step 7: Add some kitchen dish soap, 1 teaspoon should do, then stir up gently until some bubbles start to form. You don’t want too much foam. Add some glycerin to improve the lifespan of the soap bubbles from breaking

Step 8. Place the container under the Lego wand, but keep it very close. The idea is that once everything is setup, all you need to do is raise up the container enough so that the Lego wand mounted above it gets submerged and when you lower the container the wand will have a soap film bubble across the hole in the Lego wand. Just like when you were a kid, blowing bubbles, except don’t blow! this time.

Step 9. Add a black board behind the wand hole as a backdrop. It doesn’t need to be very close, but it needs to be pure black so when you look through the wand hole. You see black.

Step 10. Set your camera up to these settings. Manual exposure. Set maximum Shutter speed that you can do with your flash (125-250/sec). Set aperture to at least F8, F16 is better as you will get more of the film in focus., ISO 100 if you have enough light, White balance on flash. manual focus, attach your remote shutter release, Pre-focus on the soap wand.

Step 11. Setup your flash to fire, you will need to play with output as your fine tune your exposure

Step 12: Raise the container of soap water up and submerge the Lego wand,when you lower it you should have the hole covered in a soap film. Initially it will look clear and you will see nothing. but as the soap film thins out and the closer it gets to the point of breaking/popping it will get more turbulence and more vibrant colours will appear. You will only really see these colours in the shots with the flash. You may not see these colours with your naked eye, unless you have a continuous light source available to reflect into it. Once you start seeing the patterns and colours, confirm your focus (if you have it liveview really helps!), re-frame and shoot away. you may not have much time.. before you need to re-submerge the wand. Once the soap film/ bubble breaks don’t move anything except the water soap container, this way you maintain focus, and the position of everything, It makes reshooting much easier.

It can be tricky to get it the setup right but once you do. it’s a lot of fun.

Tip: lightly blow air across the surface of the soap film, this will make it go crazy and new patterns will appear



I would like to reference this source that helped me learn about this amazing aspect of nature

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March 20, 2014 Macro