Plasma and vapor bubble formation and evolution after a nanosecond laser pulse delivered to aluminum targets inside water were studied by fast photography. This technique was also applied to monitor the plasma produced by a second laser pulse and for different interpulse delays. The bubble growth was evident only after 3 μs from the first laser pulse and the bubble shape changed during expansion and collapse cycles. The evolution and propagation of the initial shockwave and its reflections both from the back sample surface and cell walls were detected by Schlieren photography. The primary plasma develops in two phases: violent particle expulsion and ionization during the first μs, followed by slow plasma growth from the ablation crater into the evolving vapor bubble. The shape of the secondary plasma strongly depends on the inner bubble pressure whereas the particle expulsion into the expanded bubble is much less evident. Both the primary and secondary plasma have similar duration of about 30 μs. Detection efficiency of the secondary plasma is much reduced by light refraction at the curved bubble-water interface, which behaves as a negative lens; this leads to an apparent reduction of the plasma dimensions. Defocusing power of the bubble lens increases with its expansion due to the lowering of the vapor's refraction index with respect to that of the surrounding liquid (Lazic et al., 2012 ). Smell's reflections of secondary plasma radiation at the expanded bubble wall redistribute the detected intensity on a wavelength-dependent way and allow gathering of the emission also from the external plasma layer that otherwise, would not enter into the optical system. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.