The Inverted Water Process

How this process came about was partly from play and partly from luck. Aspects of it trickled through from my more experimental Poppit Sands work, and a big chunk of it was ‘let’s try it and see’ kind of playing. At each stage I was taken enough by the results to imagine ‘if only I could make it look like this’. When a exciting step was discovered I would then move onto the next – until finally the complete process was written down and repeatable.


What I like most of all about the results is that the images have a certain look about them – but this look is completely a part of the process – not added on as a filter or effect later on. It is kind of wet plate looking with a bit of something else thrown in. It helps me create a world of staggering cliffs and monumental seas – all based around my childhood – where what a child sees is not reality – they see reality augmented by their imagination.

I am still developing the idea – and I am trying numerous different objects and new techniques – all based around the basic process outlined here. I called it the inverted water process as the images are inverted in two ways and it also uses water as a fundamental part of the process.

So, I’ll explain the process and the way I sort out problems with it.

Firstly, I draw. You don’t have to do this but with my cliff images you need to take how things actually look in reality into account, otherwise it just looks very odd.


The next step is to collect some rocks. I collect some every day when I am walking the dogs. Thin ones with dramatic edges work best.


You next need a clear tank to put water in. I initially used a glass vase (shown in the photo) but have extended this further in my studio. You then take a rock and use some bulldog clips to attach it to a strip of wood – leaving only the end of the rock in the water – see photo.



You then get your camera set up. I use film and digital. Film is much nicer but digital lets you play a bit more. I found out by chance that my reflected hands in the glass could be moved around at the time of exposure to control the depth of light – almost like burning and dodging with your hands in the darkroom. So when you expose you can do a kind of odd hand dance which is reflected in your image. Strange, but it works.

At this point I usually throw in a handful of breadcrumbs. If you swirl the water around it makes a wonderful effect in the water. I found this out by trial and error. Fine Breadcrumbs seem to work best.

So you have fixed a nice composition in the tank, swirled around the breadcrumbs and then you shoot whilst doing your hand dance to control the light.

You now get the image into Lightroom (however you want to) and you should have something like this…..


Now comes the inverting stage – you turn the image upside down…


And then invert it again into a negative..which gives you this…


And from this point on you can let your imagination run free. I see it as making my own world, full of gigantic cliffs and terrible storms.

I hope that this is of interest. Please let me know of your results if you try it!

After much trial and error I get images like this….

Good Luck!





PS you can also use the same technique to shoot other things – like flowers….


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15 thoughts on “The Inverted Water Process

    • Thank for your comment Adam. I had to work on the process for a while until I wanted to share it. It is such an unusual list of stages to go through – but nothing to all the dead ends that I hit while working through it!
      I would love to do a book. The images seem to suit the written page – as part of a bigger adventure. That is why when I print them I do it on rice paper – they look as if they were taken from an explorer’s journal.

  1. Brilliant! I’m glad that I’m not the only photographer who indulges in a bit of Heath Robinson-type shenanigans!

    Thanks for being so open and sharing what you do and how you do it and, you know what, it makes no difference to my belief in these as the cliffs and rocks of sea-bound adventures. An explorer’s journal is spot on – these ARE landscapes of the imagination, born out of your rememberance of how a child sees/thinks. As you say – not reality, but an augmented reality – I think this is a really important part of creating. For a child a cardboard box is a sailing ship and it’s when we start seeing it just as a cardboard box that we should hang up our cameras…

  2. Pingback: These Vintage Photos of Coastlines Were Created Using a Fishtank

  3. Pingback: These Vintage Photos of Coastlines Were Created Using a Fishtank | News Vault

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