Background: Markus Reugels
They appear and then are gone in an instant. Quicker than you can blink your eyes. A liquid funnel cloud, a colorful statue as real as any you see on a city street, made from only water. Macro photographer Markus Reugels has found a realm in nature that the rest of us often miss, even when we look straight at it! Better than that, Markus has found a way to vividly capture these hidden moments with his camera. This interview provides a glimpse into that world, enhanced by the unique shapes, color and light from one photographer’s visual lab.
IMPORTANT: Please click each of the images to reveal their full detail and color character. You won’t regret it! :)
Markus it’s great to have you with us; tell us a little about who you are and where you’re from.
I live in a little Village near Schweinfurt, Germany with my wife and two children. During work hours I install parquet flooring. I started taking macro pictures about four years ago. I wanted good pictures for my family album, but with the time, photography became very important to me. My favorite genre is Macro Photography; with it I can show many beautiful things we are not able to see with our eyes.
Your photographic art is unique in many ways. You capture some great macro shots in nature (as below), but how did it happen that you decided to focus on the world of “liquid dynamics”?
Originally I bought a DSLR, and was really disappointed in the results the first time I tried it. I realized I must read a lot about the settings and learn to understand parameters like ISO, aperture, and shutter speed to create beautiful pictures. I have spent much time online in photography communities. I would often take a look at some galleries, as a way to relax. In one gallery I found a picture with a simple water drop, but I found the picture so amazing! With just a drop of water, creating a stunning image like that! So I started to explore this specialized genre within macro. This was three years ago, but I have not lost the fire for it. I have so many ideas in my ToDo list. Time is my biggest limitation.
Let’s talk about the process for a moment. While it’s not the first time these types of photos have been taken, it seems you’ve perfected a kind of ”artistic science”. How many different liquids did you have to try before you found a combination that produced the most interesting shapes and colors?
The additives I use to thicken the water are very different. I have tried many combinations, but not all are easy to handle or able to create stunning shapes. I start with Guar Gum, its good, but the water is very lumpy, so it required me filter the water. Then I tried xanthan gum, potato starch, natrosol and others… each one of these additives needs to be handled differently. But they serve basically the same purpose: they thicken the water.
This is necessary to create smooth and tall shapes; using plain water the shapes are quite messy with lots of little sprinkles around the shape. The shape itself is not smooth and collapses very fast. The “thickened” water works like glue, making the shape smoother while holding its appearance longer for the camera.
How did you come up with such an great lighting and capture process? Was it purely trial and error, or did you base some of your technique on the work of others?
The lighting is the most important thing to make a stunning image. A good shape is nothing in poor light, but even a boring shape in good light is more interesting. I spend a lots of time with my lighting technique learning the best ways. Now after three years, I have found the perfect lighting for my photography. There are some fundamental lighting methods involved, like setting a rim light, a back light, lighting the contour, and so on. But each photographer must find their own way to manage this process [with the skills and equipment they have, in order to achieve their photographic vision].
Is this a purely abstract artistic practice for you, or are you trying to show people something more about the world they live in? Is it fair to say that one of the things about this type of photography that compels you, is that no two shots are ever alike? To me that is one of the most interesting things about it. It’s art that shows the chaos of nature in its simplest form.
I always have a look at the tiny things we don’t notice in every day life; with Photography it is possible to capture such moments [so that we can see them clearly]. We humans must see the world with “a child’s eyes,” and photography can help to show such moments. As an example, my Refraction Series includes a photo that shows the “World in Drop”. Here I want to tell something essential with the images. “Water is the essence of life”, a falling drop is very fast and fragile. The World is very complex and vulnerable too, so we must take more care of mother earth.
That is a great photographic concept and shot; amazing that you could pull that off. Do you ever think about taking your work in new directions (adding another variable such as air movement)? There are some great video artists who work in this area as well; is video something you are interested in pursuing?
I work with many different elements in my pictures. With an air stream I can bend the spout of liquid, or I’ll shoot an air rifle bullet through the spout. I also have worked with smoke and fog, even fountains. This is an endless game , but it’s difficult to discover truly new things in this genre.
Can you tell us which shots are your favorite, and why?
The image below was a great success for me, very complex and beautiful. There are many actions in this shot, but I created for each element a different color, [giving them some visual separation or identity]. The light is perfect in my opinion, and the chosen colors work very well.
The shot below is also an all-time favorite. The shape is very unique and rare; I have over 40,000 good keepers on my PC, but this type of shape I have only captured maybe four times in total! I like the color contrast between the water and the background too. It really works.
Last but not least, some people may wonder how much time you spend (on average) post-processing each shot? I suspect most of the magic is done with lights, materials, and in-camera?
The challenge is to capture the image with all the colors with the camera. I only adjust the Levels and contrast in Photoshop. Some little sprinkles that disturb the image and dust from the sensor are removed with the healing brushes. But that’s all. Photoshop it’s more like a digital darkroom. You can underscore the information that’s already in the image and make them brilliant. For most images I spend only about 5 minutes in processing.
Markus thank you for sharing some of your photographic art with us and sharing your insights!