I have had an intermittent fascination with water drop photography. Every couple of years or so I get really into it and focus a lot of energy into making water drops then the joy fades and I forget about it for a while. My first water drop experiments were with a single drop which I controlled with a home made dropper that I made out of PVC parts that fed into a small brass nozzle. I controlled the flow with a simple ball valve. Without using any electronics I had to time it by hand and the hit rate was very low. At the time I didn’t want to shell out several hundred dollars for the electronic ideas on the market so I tucked the project away and sort of forgot about it.
Recently I was scrolling Facebook and came across the Pluto Trigger ad. I ignored it for months but it kept popping up, my curiosity got the best of me. The Pluto Trigger is a small, inexpensive trigger that hosts a ton of features. When looking into it I discovered the Pluto Valve for making water drop collisions. The valve is a very inexpensive $40. The trigger and the valve together come to around $150 which I thought was very affordable considering all of the things the trigger is capable of and how much competing water drop valves run.
Despite the large number of features contained within the Pluto Trigger I have only used it for water drops. I have plans to experiment more with it but my main objective was water drop collisions so that is where I have spent all of my time.
There are a couple of ways to set this up. I plug the trigger into the valve and into my camera. The other option is to plug the trigger into the valve and directly into your flashes. The delay is less when plugged directly into the flashes however I don’t have enough cables to do this so I run it into the camera and wirelessly trigger my flashes from the camera.
Edit May 16, 2017: The valve has a weak point where the reservoir tube connects to the valve. Mine became severed and in an attempt to fix it ended up breaking the piece entirely. I contacted Pluto via Facebook and they sent out replacement parts immediately. To my surprise when the parts arrived the package included 2 new plastic connectors, a brass connector and a brass spout for the bottom of the valve. I was very impressed with the customer service and the fact that they upgraded the parts. They did not charge me anything for the parts.
Overall I am extremely happy with my experience with Pluto as well as my experience with the valve. The valve is super easy to set up and use. It does take some trial and error but overall it is an absolute joy to use.
Click here to see some shots taken with the Pluto Trigger/Valve set up, here are 5 tips to help you on your Pluto Valve water drop collision journey:
1: Add something to the water to make it thicker. Plain water will work fine but it is more temperamental. I have used borax, corn syrup and paint all with great success. My favorite mixture is 4 teaspoons of borax per cup of water. To get it a little thicker I sometimes add a teaspoon of paint or corn syrup to that mix. – when using additives in the water make sure you clean your valve thoroughly after each use.
2: Build a stand so that the valve is at a consistent height every time you shoot. I keep mine about 12 inches off of the top of the water.
3: Be patient. Even with electronics you are not going to get an awesome collision 100% of the time. There are many factors that contribute to a perfect collision. To get things dialed in I usually start with a drop size of 8 for both drops, a delay between drops of 95 and a flash delay of 195. I then tinker with the delay from there until I am getting consistent collisions. After that I start adjusting drop size. Once you have a baseline dialed in drop size adjustment just becomes a matter of some simple math.
4: Have fun! It’s easy to get frustrated when things aren’t working out but remember to have fun. Play around with different colors, flash arrangements, water additives, water temperatures, bowl shapes, height and any other factors you can think of.
5: Make sure you have a catch basin. I typically have a bowl to catch the water placed inside of a pan. I fill the bowl all the way to the brim, this is where the magic happens, then naturally every time a drop falls into it there is overflow. Make sure you have a second pan to catch this or you’re in for a mess.
Here is a video review showing how to create Water Droplets with the trigger and the valve.