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Smoke image
CREDIT: Sophie Whitmore

SPotY Activities

Experiments you can set up and photograph at home

You don't need to be a scientist or have lots of scientific instruments to create amazing images that illustrate scientific theories.

Michelle Whitmore ARPS has created a brilliant set of activities to do at home and she has kindly agreed for us to share a few ideas below. All the final images were created by her grandchildren Sophie and Josh Whitmore.  They used a digital SLR but these images can just as easily be taken on a camera phone.

All liquids interact or react differently when they are mixed with another liquid. We wanted to see what would happen if we mixed water and cooking oil together.

Things you'll need:
Cooking oil, water, a clean glass Pyrex dish (any shallow glass cooking dish will work) something to support the dish on, (we used 6 paving bricks) different fabrics, paper and other similar materials and a bendy desk lamp.

How it was done:
Put some water into the dish and added a splash of cooking oil, then mixed it with your finger finger. We lit the materials below the dish so we could see the interaction of the oil and water, its good to have a towel handy to wipe your finger with so it doesn’t get your camera mucky. We then waited for the “mixture” to stop moving so we could photograph it.

Oil and water don’t mix easily. How about shaking the oil and water together in a bottle (with a good lid!) and then pouring it into the dish? Watch how the oil droplets slowly gather together. What happens if you then add a tiny drop of detergent, such as washing-up liquid?

This time we want to see what would happen when liquid food colouring is dropped into water.

Things you'll need:
Water, a clear vase, liquid food colouring, pipettes and kitchen roll in case of spillages. 

How it was done:
Put some water into the vase and used the pipettes to add drops of food colouring into the water. 

Does one colour work better for this than another? What about making the water coloured first (say yellow) then adding other colours? If you get it just right, you might even make a coloured ‘ring’ in the water - like an upside down smoke ring!

Capturing smoke patterns on a black background. This project requires adult supervision.

Things you'll need:
A desk lamp, incense stick incense stick holder, but you could use blu-tack or Plasticine or similar to hold it in place, match/lighter – to light the incense stick, tripod (optional but very advisable) a dark piece of paper or material for the background – we used black velvet material.

How it was done:
We used a darkened room with black material for our set up. The reason for this is we want the background of the image to come out as black as possible with just the smoke highlighted. Our source of light came from a desk lamp that was positioned to the side of the incense stick and aimed so that only the smoke was lit.

You will need some adult supervision for the next bit. Place the incense stick into the holder and light it, let it burn for about 15 seconds then blow it out; this helps to produce the best smoke.  Wave the stick around gently to generate different shapes, and try blowing softly as it creates some beautiful effects. Put the incense stick back in the holder and start shooting.

The warm air carrying the smoke rises from the incense stick like a thin smooth tube. How long it stays smooth depends on how still the air is in your room. Moving the stick gently can create beautiful spiral shaped vortices, but move too fast and the air tumbles into turbulence!

Don't forget that if you're under 18 you can win an Olympus camera and macro lens!

You can find more activities with Michelle's pdf ebook here