The gentle babble of a brook, the roaring of a river, the rolling waves at the beach and the pitter patter of a rain shower are all usually inspiring or soothing sounds. Photographs of moving water are also quite remarkable and popular, but there are a few important techniques and approaches that must be used when attempting the photographing of moving water.
First the photographer must determine how they want to record the body of water. Such images can be blurry, crystal clear or somewhere in between. The photographer seeking to realistically record the moving water will have to set their camera at a very fast shutter speed to eliminate any blur from the motion of the water as it rushes, or even trickles, past. This is a purely “photorealistic” approach that does not provide any sense of motion or activity in the scene.
If a photographer does decide to catch the fluid motion of a body of flowing water they can experiment with slower shutter speeds, and they will usually also be in need of a tripod to prevent any camera shake from ruining the photograph. The rule of thumb for making photographs of smooth or “soft” waters is to use the slowest speeds possible for the most opaque or surreal effects.
Generally, the shutter speeds required to create images of soft or smooth water begin around one second or more of exposure, and the lower the ISO setting the better. Of course a lower ISO will demand a slower shutter speed, but will also prevent the image from becoming grainy or “noisy” which cannot be corrected – even with photo editing software.
Of course, shutter speed and ISO are not the only settings or techniques that affect the appearance of the water in the image. The distance between the subject and the camera also makes a big difference as well. Generally, the closer the camera is to the moving water the more blurry it will appear.
To determine the best aperture settings for a camera, it is best to work directly with those dictated by the camera’s on board metering. If the ISO and shutter speed are manually set, the meter will still indicate the f/stop or aperture for the overall lighting of the environment.
Like any other unique subject in a unique environment, water subjects are best experimented with. For example, it is a good idea to return to the same setting a few times and experiment with the manual settings on the camera. It is also a good idea to return at several different times of day to see what kind of effects can be recorded.