How To Photograph Moving Water

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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.

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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.

About the Author

Amy is an multi-award winning photographer from Australia. She teaches enthusiast photographers how to take beautiful, professional photos in easy, plain English. She has a monthly photography emagazine and ebooks to help you create stunning images every time.

Comments (8)

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  1. Mike says:

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  2. Scott says:

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  3. Daniel says:

    Photography is an art that requires passion, an eye for a detail, a camera, and a subject. Nature Photography is not about taking a picture of a leaf or a waterfall but it is about how detailed the picture is, how beautiful it looks, and what impressions it produces for the observer. It is never as easy as it seems and to take pictures of cascading waterfalls, meandering rivers and snowclad mountains can require a lot more than a good camera and passion for photography.

    Nature photography also known as landscape photography comprises of a number of elements, and how you bring these elements together to present a whole picture is fundamental to this art. A photographic composition includes visual elements comprising of a photographers vision and the ability to see, identify, arrange, and frame a finished or complete image. This is definitely a distinct skill and if you think you have such a skill then landscape photography will be a great experience and career for you.

    Lets look at some of the basic elements that will play a major role in defining the final picture. The first element is Scale. If you take into consideration images of nature then you will find that most of them differ by the scale of the scene captured. The three different categories to be kept in mind are:

    1.Grand Scenery: This includes huge expanses of landscape

    2.Intimate Scenery: This is one of the most elusive of all sceneries, as you will have to isolate a scene within the scene and keep only the important part.

    3.Macro Scenery: This includes enlarging the elements, which are small in nature and cannot be noticed otherwise.

    It is very important to examine and interpret each of these scenes distinctively to get the best picture. The important thing to understand is that you should not block your mind or vision to a particular scale you need to have an open mind so that you can add variations and use the opportunities to your advantage.

    The second important element of nature photography is Raw Material and it is further composed of subelements like:

    1. Light: Very important element, you need to identify and adjust its direction, color, and angle

    2. Shape: It consists of the outline as well as the surface of different objects in a particular scene

    3. Lines: There can be straight, and curved lines, which may be pointing out or in from the frame towards a given object

    4. Textures and patterns

    5. Colors and tones

    6. Frame boundaries

    The third important element that you need to work on is Complexity. In any landscape photograph there is an underlying concept that drives the composition of that particular image. The concept will help the viewer to understand the picture or image with various connotations, and help identify the relationship between them and the image. This is why an image should neither be too simple nor be too complex but at the same time, it should be complex enough for the viewer to delve deeper into the composition to find the hidden meaning to make him/her think.

    The last element in Nature Photography is Perspective and it can be defined as the visual relationship between the scene portrayed and the point from where it is being viewed.

    Once you have understood the importance and impact of various elements required of landscape photography, you would be able to create the magic that will hold the viewer spellbound.

  4. Scotch says:

    Thanks for useful tips Amy. Although I’ve not tried this, I’ve seen some interesting results using a slow shutter speed and tripod where you have a fast-flowing stream plus a bird like a heron or egret standing dead still on a rock poking out of the water. So you get this dreamy, soft water flowing around the sharp outlines of the rock and the bird.

  5. [...] Nature Photography Tips – Photograph Moving Water [...]

  6. Gerek Allen says:

    This was a very good article about photography and how to shoot moving water. I really enjoyed the tip about making sure to use a very fast shutter speed to eliminate the blurry effect of moving water. Thanks for the tips and thanks for all the other golden nuggets you gave in this piece. Keep em comin’!

  7. Hazel says:

    Amy, good aricle. really enjoy your stuff, keep up the great work. Thanks for sending me this months Ezine- I knew it was a problem at my end. I have learnt so much from you so far, you’ve given me the courage to set the camera on manual with out being afraid anymore.

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