Planet Tozer: How He Did It

An old coat hanger bent into a wire loop and a good recipe for bubble mixture – some of the hi-tec essentials for producing great images
Our recent post on photographer Jason Tozer’s images of bubbles prompted a fair few calls of “how did he do that?” Well, we were in his studio on the day of the shoot and can reveal all here…

An old coat hanger bent into a wire loop and a good recipe for bubble mixture – some of the hi-tech essentials for producing great images

Our recent post on photographer Jason Tozer’s images of bubbles prompted a fair few calls of “how did he do that?” Well, we were in his studio on the day of the shoot and can reveal all here…




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The shoot came about after Sony approached Creative Review looking for a way in which to demon­strate the capabilities of its new Alpha 350 D-SLR camera. Having seen his wonderful images in last month’s Monograph, we suggested commiss­ioning photographer Jason Tozer to create a suite of images around the theme of bubbles, thus tying in with the overall campaign idea for the camera.

As Tozer mentioned in a reply to the comments on the initial post, despite the prevalence for filters and post effects in photography these days, his bubbles series was created completely in-camera.

While some of the final shots resembled vast gas planets, others – like the more amorphous blob shown above – seemed even further removed from the humble equipment Tozer used to bring his subjects into being: namely, washing up liquid and a coat hanger bent into a hoop.

“I looked online for bubble recipes and a bit of glycerine is apparently the key,” says Tozer. “Ten parts water, one part washing-up liquid and a little bit of glycerine. We also used distilled water as well because hard water isn’t so good.”

Tozer’s first experiments produced several close-ups of elongated bubble shapes. Poised in front of a black background, his assistant was charged with bringing the detergent-loaded hoop through the air in front of the camera. Only occasionally would the bubble pass by the correct position…

To achieve the more planet-like images, Tozer began by blowing through a straw into a plate of the solution and turning the camera on what formed on the near-side of the dish. He then used a lens cap wet with solution to achieve a single bubble shape to photograph.

Interestingly, Tozer found that as further bubbles were made from a particular batch of solution, less colours appeared on the surface. “The first bubble you make has loads of colour in it, when you make another couple they seem to have less colour in them,” he says. “The detergent seems to sink to the bottom of the bubbles, leaving the water behind, so you gradually get different images.”

[For a full explanation of the processes happening here, please see the comments below!]

For example:

As for the settings on the camera itself – Tozer kept it all to manual. “I was trying to get the highest shutter speed we could, with the lowest ASA, so the shots were less grainy,” he says. “When we got some beefier lights we were able to go down to about 100 and then 200 ASA.”

What seems most remarkable about Tozer’s shoot is how a seemingly transparent film of liquid actually revealed a whole multitude of colours when caught in mid-air and photographed. Because of this Tozer was able to play around with scale and perspective and create a fantastic series of otherworldy pictures. The full set can be seen on our Flickr photostream, here.

More of Tozer’s work can be seen at here for more details on the new Sony Alpha 350 D-SLR.


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  • rob

    well it’s not completely remarkable… thin film diffraction effects have been known for many, many years.

    still, this is beautiful art.

  • Paul Camp

    The detergent is not what is causing the colors, at least not directly. It stabilizes the bubble, which otherwise wouldn’t last very long — try blowing bubbles in tap water. Consequently, the fact that the bubble still persists when the colors go away tells you that there is still detergent present in it. In fact, there is really no way for gravity to unmix the two. If there were, detergent would precipitate out from a dish that is just left sitting for a while, and that never happens.

    The colors are produced by thin film interference. When the thickness of the bubble film matches a multiple of the wavelength of the light, the corresponding color is produced. Check any intro physics book for a full explanation.

    The reason the colors eventually go away is because gravity is causing the bubble material (which is, after all, a liquid) to flow down to the bottom. This makes the entire bubble film thinner and thinner. When its thickness is smaller than the wavelength of any visible light, colors can no longer be produced through constructive interference. It would, however, be interesting to see what happens in the UV.

  • Great work ;-).

  • e_varden

    See above (pic 1) for “The Scream” top center/right!

  • Linda

    We have been making giant bubbles for years using dishwashing liquid, water and Karo syrup (the clear kind). A stick with rope tied on it is dipped into a bucket of the solution then the rope is twirled in the air. The bubbles last a really long time. See examples at

  • AC

    Brilliant stuff. A very enjoyable set of snaps and something fun to try over a weekend. I wonder if similar results can be obtained with prosumer cameras.

  • Joe Marfice

    I’m an optical engineer, and I’m seconding what Paul Camp said on 17/06/08, 5:32 am.

    Gravity doesn’t remove the soap from the bubble – the soap is dissolved into the water, and gravity doesn’t have much (any?) effect on the concentration.

    It’s the thickness of the bubble membrane that determines the colors. Most liquids would display pretty similar colors at the same thicknesses – water, soapy water, oil, red brake fluid… The rainbow effects, and eventual transparency, are all due to “thin-film” diffraction. Google “Newton’s Rings” for a description.

  • Rob

    I think he means glycerin, not glucose.

    Glycerin makes fantastic bubbles.

  • lance hart

    Glucose ? Sounds like someone’s been drinking the Kool-Aid.

    Did we mean Glycerin or possibly (ethylene or propylene) Glycol ?

  • Stephanie

    Well I don’t care what you used or how you did it, I think it’s beautiful! Nice work, I see why Sony asked you do this!

  • the change in presence of colour is not due to abundance of water or detergent, but to geometrical optical issues, as said by Joe Marfice.
    please find below the physical explanation of the phenomenon.

    colours on the bubble come form visible light interference phenomena.
    colours are visible only when the bubble thickness is comparable to the light wavelength (from 0,4 to 0,7 microns, apart some multiple reflection count).
    when you don’t see colours anymore, it’s due to the fact that the tickness is getting to small (due to water going down under its own weight) to interfere with that wavelength range.
    same effect is found with oil on asphalt and some other thin film objects which diffract light.
    I’ve had a graduating thesys on that.


  • wagonjak

    I love the images, but why couldn’t there be more of the whole bubble? or are there more of them somewhere? Unearthly beautiful photos though…C

  • Yes there are some (lots) more, i’ve continued shooting them since these pictures. I’ll try & get them up on my website soon.

  • Alun Crockford

    Might it have been even more interesting to feature Guido Mocafico who did this originally or even Ted humble smith who won the AOP award with almost exactly the same conceptt, whilst pastiche has its place it would benefit all is credit was given to the original concept

  • Patrick Burgoyne

    @Alun Crockford
    If there is a lack of originality here it is in our brief not in Jason’s response – we asked him to take pictures of soap bubbles. To accuse him of a deliberate pastiche of Mocafico’s work is nonsense. Besides, I think it unlikely that Guido Mocafico, wonderful photographer that he is, was the first to be intrigued by this subject.

  • Stefano Moro

    Beautiful piece of work, eerie and magic.
    Show us more.

  • creativereview


    Check out the original series of photographs here:

  • peter tozer

    Well said Patrick 18/07/08 8.28am
    The importance of these photographs, in my view,is that the work was realised with the spec. camera to serve Sony ends.It also sparks debate, encourages others to get more from their cameras.
    Jason would have the awareness that the film appearance of the liquid mix will be under change during a time period. Heat and light of the environment plus gravity plays its part.
    More importantly maybe is that there is no trickery.
    The camera is king in the right hands.

  • It’s a lot easier if the soap film is flat…

  • Jason Tozer

    More bubbles & images from the upcoming gallery show ‘Close’ here:

  • Sir Charles

    love da bubbles!

  • Funny and fantastic :)