Bubble Planets – a tutorial

Boy, it’s been a few weeks but after doing the 31 day challenge, it was nice to take a short break. I must say though, that a week ago, I was itching to do some photography and didn’t really have any idea of what I wanted to do but thought that I’d play around with some soap bubble planets like the one I had done during January. That bubble had a very cool looking center but I was lucky as it was the very last bubble of the day (well, I stopped when I saw it on my lcd screen). I remember that day; I did the shoot twice – several hours and it was a pretty horrendous shoot as I couldn’t get rid of everything that was reflecting in my bubble. I kept moving stuff around and putting up white boards and I consider myself lucky that day for getting anything at all.

So, here is how I was able to create several bubble photos with incredible colors – At the end of the tutorial, I will give a list of everything you need.

So last Saturday, I figured I would try to find a way – there’s got to be one. In the beginning I tried putting up lots of white tissue paper and use sunlight. That did not work as the sun was not strong enough that day.  Then I used regular lamp that I moved up and down to try and get a good bubble. This did work but it was not very bright and every little bit of a crinkle also  showed. It was also underexposed. Then I tried making a tiny little softbox. Very tiny. A 5 inch cube made out of a cardboard wine bottle box and covered in tissue paper. Again, no good – the little bit of cardboard structure that holds the piece together showed up in the reflections. Without them, the piece has no spine so that was also abandoned.

So, I knew I needed something that could bend without breaking or falling apart. I looked around the house and found an old plastic portfolio that Janne had given me many years ago. The plastic is a very light blue and frosted so quite transparent but not reflective. Since the portfolio was already cracked, I didn’t feel too guilty cutting it up. Now, you may not have this in your house, but I’m sure stationary supplies would have something like this quite cheap. Take a moment and see if they have something like plastic binder covers etc., that you could use. Look around the house and see what you can find. You may even have some big bottle of cleaning product etc., that might be used.

Before we begin – I shot my bubbles with a macro lens. I don’t own one but used Simon’s 105mm Macro on his Nikon.  I hope one day in the future to own one of my own. I am always borrowing it as it’s an amazing lens. I never was interested much in a macro lens before as I always had this idea in my mind that it was for taking close-ups of bugs but that is not so. The Canon 100mm and the Nikon 105mm macro lenses are both considered amazing both as macro and portrait lenses and extremely flexible for many types of shooting.  I imagine you could do this with different lenses but to get the beautiful close-up detail that you can print full size, your best option would be the macro lens.

To start with, I needed a base. I wanted something that was sturdy enough to wrap my frosted plastic around but not too big and cumbersome. I decided to use the top of a cookie tin as turning it upside down would allow any water spilled to fall there. I also knew I needed a black background so used some black plastic from an old binder that I took apart and made a circle to place inside. You can use black craft paper or poster board but they bleed their ink when wet (not a huge problem, but messier).


Now, I’m sure you will laugh, but this is cut very badly but I was trying things and once I found that it worked, I just left it like it was. I figure I just wanted to try this out, do some bubble pictures and I wouldn’t be holding onto this forever so wasn’t too concerned with the esthetics. I put the black circle in the bottom of the cookie tin cover and taped the frosted plastic so that 2/3rds of the exterior was covered and that left me a nice amount of space to place both the bubble and to take the photo.
Here a front and side view:


As you can see, I used the second part of the plastic from the binder (when I cut it, I took the cardboard out and was left with a pocket) and taped it beneath. This was also not necessary but I liked that I was able to place my straw there while shooting as the end of the straw is wet.


Now we need a container to place the bubble. At first I was trying to make a bubble in a pie plate and different receptacles but when you do this, the bubble moves around and seems attracted to the edges of the bowl or plate and will move towards it and the side where it attaches is no longer round. It is also very difficult to focus on something that clearly will not stay in place.  I tried many different items and at first was taking the photo with a little 1 ounce measuring cup which worked well except that the metal was reflecting light. I tried taping it with my black duct tape but that is also shiny and it still reflected. I finally found this little transparent plastic lid type thing that was attached to my tea lights. You don’t have to use this exact same thing. You could use a small black lid or screw top to something especially if it was not shiny.  I’m sure if you look around the house you will find something appropriate.



I did put a bit of black plastic in the bottom, just to make sure the little dots in the bottom didn’t light up with the light.


Next you need something to put your soap and water in. Anything will do, but probably something small and not too deep will make your life easier. I used a metal 1/4 cup measuring cup because it is small and has a handle but any small container will be fine.   There is not a specific recipe that I know will work. I used Dawn liquid dish soap but I imagine any type would do as long as it makes bubbles. I put some water into the measuring cup (about half – so about 1/8th of a cup) and squeezed what might be 2-3 tablespoons of liquid soap. If you find the bubbles are not lasting, you could add a bit more.  When I did the 31 day challenge, I had added a bit of pancake syrup which I thought might make the bubbles stronger but now found that just plain water and soap worked equally well.  Do not be afraid to experiment though – light corn syrup or glycerine may make it work better for you.

Now – Light

Well, to start with I suppose you could do this with flashes but strong light actually helps you to see the colors of the bubble and makes it easier to focus properly. I guess if you were on a tripod and found the right placement for the flash, you could shoot and a portion of your photos will be in focus and some not. What happens is it is quite difficult to make a bubble that is exactly the same size every time. Perhaps if a machine was blowing them, they would have exactly the same amount of liquid and the same amount of air but you are the one doing the blowing so even tiny differences changes where your focus needs to be.

At first I tried a regular lamp and it worked – kind of.   When shooting you want a high F-stop number.  Keeping your lens closed down to something around F16-F22 is your best option as you want as much detail as you can get.  Opening it up further causes smaller sections to actually be in focus and harder to achieve even. So, with the regular lamp, I had to up the ISO to 1600-2000 and more and open up the F stop to between F11-F14. The images on the lcd looked not too bad, but once I looked at them in Lightroom, very tiny areas were in focus and there was a ton of noise. Now, if you have a newer camera, you may be able to have an even higher ISO without any noise problems. Both my and Simon’s cameras are of the older, noisier generation.  The amount of noise that had to be taken away made it that the images looked smeary and blurry and not in focus.

Because of the noise problem and the high ISO I needed, I knew I needed stronger light. I opted for a construction lamp. 500watts of light is very strong but it worked. I was able to shoot at ISO 400 and my F-stop fixed at F-18.  If I had a less noisy camera, I would definitely shoot at ISO 1600 and stop down to F32 or F40 or so.  This macro lens goes to F45, I believe. That would make a huge portion of the bubble in great focus and allow more of the bubble to be lit up.



Place your lamp behind your frosted area.  Experiment with the placement of where you make your bubble and where you want the lamp. I kept my lamp very close to the frosted plastic for the most intense light.


Do not add any lights in areas where the opening is as it will be reflected in the bubble. This is placed this way only because I put all the items on my desk to use the natural window light to show the items to you. When I actually make my bubbles, I do them in the living room, as I  found that sitting down and doing the bubbles from higher up was easier to see the colors and otherwise, you have to do the shoot standing up. Once you start, you will find it is a lot of fun and you may easily spend a couple hours — save your back and sit down. :-D   Once you start making your bubbles, you will need to experiment with where you want the bubble to be. It needs to have a bit of the bottom black behind it as that is what shows up as your background but not so far in front that only a sliver of light hits the bubble. To start, place your bubble in the middle.. that is a good starting point. Also, move your light up and down by placing it on a book or two and perhaps use something to give it a bit of an angle. This part is up to you. But that’s part of the fun– seeing how moving things around changes what you see and the final image.



You may think that making a bubble would go well with those little wands but I think those are only good if you want bubbles floating through the air. You will find that using a straw is much easier. I also found that making the straw longer enabled you to make the bubbles and not have to bend over so much. I simply cut a slit on the bottom of one – then inserted another into that snugly and it worked very well.

bubbletut7The actual bubble blowing is simple. Make sure your bubble receptacle has water in it. I fill it pretty much to the top. Now, dip your straw into the soap liquid and go to your receptacle and simply blow.  Notice all the reflections in this bubble. It is on my desk and the light from the window and the light behind me is reflecting everything. At this point, not much color is discernible.


Small bubbles last longer but also take longer for color to appear. Larger bubbles get color faster but do not last as long.

bubbletut9Do not worry about all the reflections you see here, they will not be in your photo, this is again, simply because I wanted the natural light to show you all the elements and how to put them together.

If you look at the top of this bubble in image 9 – you will see the color starting to appear. This is because the bubble is starting to break down.  It is time to get close now with your camera and watch the colors appear. If your bubble is slow to change, or if you see it making a simple rainbow effect and no swirls, you can either blow very softly – or do a HAAAA with a wide open mouth to get just a bit of air to start it spinning. You can also just use your straw and tap it a bit to get it to move. bubbletut10

Most of the time, you will notice a small hole that appears at the top. This is normal and this hole gets bigger and bigger and finally collapses. Since our brains are easily fooled, you will find that they often create shapes of monsters that have wide-open mouths. Sometimes you do not have a hole and you will simply get swirls and shapes until the bubble starts getting thin and turns to beige and rust before your eyes and sometimes even just a bit of a streak of white before it is gone.



As you can see, even on my desk with all the weird light reflections, you can see the colors of the bubble swirling on top. Once you are taking your photos, you will be very close and only that wonderful shape and swirl against the black background will be visible. It will be a fantastic experience.

Now, although this setup up works, I’m pretty sure I know how to better it as even though the way I show it to you works, lower down you can still see a bit of the circular part where the frosted top of the plastic finishes. I have though about it and am pretty positive a frosted dome would take away all those problems but to buy a frosted dome online would cost about $60. – plus it would need to be cut to be able to both make a bubble and place your camera to take a picture. It would be something like this – sorry for the quick sketch:


The thing is… do you really want to spend that much especially if this is just something you want to play around with a couple of times. I don’t. And hey, you can make something pretty nice planets without it.

Now a small gallery of only a few of the many pics I’ve taken – I hope you like them and I hope that if you try this out that you let me know either by a comment here or by writing to my on my contact page.


List of what you will need:
a camera with preferably a macro lens
a round container that you can place your bubble container in
something black to put in that round container if it is not already black
some frosted plastic that is big enough to go around at least 1/2 to 2/3rds of your round container (mine was light blue but white would work just as well)
a small container to make a bubble (it does not have to be as small as mine, but the bigger the bubble, the more black space you will need as a background)
a couple of straws
small container to put your water and dish soap
liquid dish soap
strong light (or perhaps flashes – pretty sure they would also work) Quick note*** if using the construction light, this will make the area you are working very very warm. It is winter here and I’m usually walking around with an undershirt, a top and at least another sweater on top of that. When I’m shooting, I’m just in the little undershirt with small spaghetti strings as it is very, very warm.


Good luck to everyone! :-D