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Splash art: Photographer captures beautiful chaos of water droplets

“Basking in the Sunlight” by Michael McKenney. (Courtesy of Michael McKenney)

Life has changed for Michael McKenney since the pandemic shut things down across the country.

The time at home has taught the Albuquerque-based photographer one thing – patience.

Always outdoors photographing landscapes, McKenney stayed at home and thought of a new approach he could take: droplet photo shoots.

He would shoot in macro high speed and capture the beautiful chaos of water droplets.

“It’s like a snowflake,” he says. “Each drop collision is unique. You get what the drop gives you. I’ve been shooting them for the last couple of months.”

McKenney built a space inside his home where he could compose the photos.

He’ll often use water, of course, as well as milk and food coloring. It’s in this space, where he can be a mad scientist and create.

Albuquerque resident Michael McKinney

“When I set up my drops, I don’t look for perfection,” he says. “I won’t align everything properly to create that tension and chaos.”

McKenney converted his spare bedroom into a computer room, where he built a wooden structure that holds the core. There the structure has solenoid that let McKenney control the size of the drop, as well as the timing.

“I let it fall into a pan or container of water,” he says. “I have control over those elements, and then I have the room slightly darkened.”

McKenney has found himself shooting photographs nearly every day.

The results are pieces he’s named, “The Bow,” “Cosmic Splash,” “Star Gazer,” “A Moment in a Water Drop’s Life,” “Water Angel,” “The Rock Pigeon” and more.

Each photograph is a moment in time.

“They are otherworldly and take on a life of their own,” he says. “It’s all about timing.”

McKenney and his wife moved to Albuquerque from Arkansas in 2016.

His sister worked at Sandia National Laboratories and would always try to get his mother to move to New Mexico.

“When I retired, we decided to make the move to Albuquerque,” he says. “I’ve done photography my whole life. It’s 50 years plus. Because I don’t do portraits, this seemed like the next evolution to my career. I can go at my own pace and have some sort of control over what I’m doing.”

McKenney doesn’t touch up the photographs too much when he’s finished.

“The colors and images are raw,” he says. “I let the water take course and am lucky enough to capture what transpires. It’s an interesting take on what I’ve done all my life.”

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