A Union Jack Queen’s Jubilee Photography Project

The Queen’s Jubilee weekend in the UK is almost here, and whether you’re a royalist or not, it’s hard not to feel the excitement surrounding the event. On June 6, 2022, Her Majesty The Queen will become the first British monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee marking 70 years of service.

People across the UK (and the world) are marking the celebration in their own way over the bank holiday weekend. For photographers, we thought we’d put together some fun, silly, and slightly patriotic projects you can try at home to mark the occasion.

Read more: See these rare photos of the Queen (opens in a new tab)

With that in mind, here’s a tutorial that will show you how to photograph the Union Jack flag in a fun, abstract way using things you already have in your kitchen. Water and oil cannot mix, but they can create unique photos. With a few household items, a flash (or a strong lamp) and the right camera settings, we can create bold and vibrant abstract images. Read on and find out how to turn the British flag into a work of art and celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee in 2022.

The mission

The mission: Create vibrant abstract art by making reflections in oil and water

Time: One o’clock

Competence level: Intermediate

Kit needed: Flash or powerful lamp, macro lens (optional), tripod (optional)

The key here is to customize our light source. By placing a colored material in front of the light, we can turn it into our own softbox. This light will then reflect in oil and water to create our abstract art.

Every little bubble and drop of oil is highly reflective, so at right angles they reflect light from our source back to the camera. The result is a seemingly endless array of bubbles – some on the surface of the water, others drifting to the depths below – and each containing the shapes and colors of our light source in miniature form.

We used a colored Union Jack flag for our oily sheen, but you can use any semi-translucent material. Or if you prefer arts and crafts, you can make your own using cardboard, scissors, and tracing paper or colored acetate. Any bold shape will do, but it adds to the effect if the colors and shapes are familiar and recognizable.

We used a small studio softbox to light our oil and water. If you don’t have this type of equipment, you can achieve similar results with different types of light-emitting devices, as you will see.

How to Set Up Your Queen’s Jubilee Inspired Photo

Queen's Jubilee Photography Project

Light source

For this to work you will need a colored material to place on top of your light. Any shape, pattern or color will work – we used a Union Jack flag. You will also need to create a cardboard template large enough to fit over your light source.

Luminous template

We used a studio flash and a softbox. If you don’t have one, you can make your own light box. Cut out one side of a box and attach your flag or colored material to it. Then shine a lamp or flash through a hole in the opposite side of the box.

oil on water

For this effect, you will need a wide, dark container, such as a baking sheet. Then fill it with water and add a few drops of cooking oil. Each drop will create beautiful highlights, so get ready to start shooting. If the oil starts to clump, shake it quickly.

Macro lens

A macro lens allows us to get closer to the surface of the water. If you don’t have one, don’t worry – any lens that lets you zoom in with a short minimum focus distance will do. Try using manual focus to get sharp photos.

Exposure and flash settings

A great set of stock settings for indoor flash is: manual mode, 1/200 sec, f/11, ISO 100. After that we can adjust the strength of the light to ideally suit our exposure . Position the camera directly in front of the light source and at a similar height so that it can capture the wide, colorful range of reflections.

Queen's Jubilee Photography Project

A studio flash head means we can use a low ISO for maximum image quality and a high f-number for increased depth of field. The modeling light is also very handy for focusing. If you don’t have a studio flash, you can use a flash, an LED, a powerful household light, or even your smartphone.

Queen's Jubilee Photography Project

Setup 1: Colored and oily abstracts

Queen's Jubilee Photography Project

Ripples in the water

If you want, you can try adding ripples and drops to the water. Simply place a spoon or similar utensil in the water and concentrate on the base of it. Lift it out of the water, taking care to hold it directly above the focus point. Then capture the moment when the drops fall from the spoon and hit the water. A tripod is useful here as it frees up your hands to focus the lens and hold the spoon.

Use your monitor

You can use all kinds of light sources for this, even a monitor or a tablet screen. We positioned the oil and water in front of a monitor and then created a simple circular gradient in Photoshop. Of course, even with the brightness turned up to maximum, a monitor screen is not as powerful as a flash, so we needed a high ISO and a large aperture. As for shutter speed, you can go down to maybe 1/8 sec and use a tripod. But be sure to wait until the water is calm and use a self-timer so you don’t disturb the camera when you press the shutter button.

Kit needed: Oil and water, monitor or any other digital screen, tripod

Exposure: 1/8 sec, f/5, ISO4000

Configuration 2: X marks the spot

Queen's Jubilee Photography Project

Shaping a model

In addition to colored materials like our flag image on the back, we could also try cutting out a shape to fit our light source. We made an X-shaped hole in a piece of cardboard, then fitted it snugly over our softbox, making sure no light could escape around the edges. It’s worth experimenting with the angle of the light source and the height of your camera. If we raise the light higher, we can raise our camera for a steeper viewing angle on the container. This brings us more directly to the surface of the water, which means that more oil drops on the surface are brought into focus.

Kit needed: Flash, cardboard, scissors, tape

Exposure: 1/200 sec, f/11, ISO100

Queen's Jubilee Photography Project

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