Water Photography – Top 5 Photography Tips For Getting Great Pictures With Water as a Key Subject.
I don’t know what it is but any picture with water seems to capture my attention unlike any other setting on earth, transporting me back to some of the richest experiences I’ve ever had, with or without a camera. From a photographic standpoint water pictures allow the photographer to be extremely creative through the use of reflections and varied shutter speeds which allow us to smooth out the water or capture a single drop in isolation. Follow the water photography tips below and get creative with your own techniques and you’ll be amazed by end result. Just remember tips are just that and rules are meant to be broken so put on your creative hat and get out there and have some fun. As you will see the same tips below also apply to waterfall photography, the principles are pretty much the same except we can get into much longer exposures which will literally turn waves into glass-like water images.
- Slow Shutter Speeds: As with waterfalls, water pictures of lakes and rivers also benefit from slow shutter speeds. For that silky smooth flowing river look aim to get your shutter speed in the ¼ second to 2 seconds range. With lakes and oceans that have waves you have options. If you wish to capture the power of the waves shoot with a faster shutter speed and if you wish to flatten things out you can literally shoot with exposures into the seconds and minutes. Experimentation is key is don’t be afraid to play.
- Neutral Density (ND) Filters: So just how do you slow the shutter speed down into minutes during the day when the light is good for those silky water pictures? The answer lies in an ND filter, which are are quantified by their optical density or put more simply the f stop reduction they provide, which ranges from 1 to 13 stops. I carry an ND4, ND8 and ND16 which give a 2, 3 and 4 fstop reduction respectively. By reducing the light that hits the sensor this allows us to set the shutter speed according to the particular motion desired. If required you may also stack filters to stop the light down even further but keep an eye out for vignetting.
- Polarizing Filters: Like neutral density filters, a polarizing filter can help to reduce the light however only by two stops so our ability to control shutter speed with a polarizing filter is more limited than with a neutral density filter. However polarizing filters have an added bonus in that they reduce reflections in the water and on any of the surroundings that are wet and that’s a good thing for the quality of your water pictures.
- Small Apertures: There are a few reasons why smaller apertures are a good idea for water photography. One, smaller apertures (larger f number) allow for slower the shutter speeds so you may not have to use a neutral density filter depending on the lighting conditions. Small apertures (example, f/16, f/22) increase the depth of field so foreground and background elements remain sharp throughout the water picture and it is often those key elements that make or break your image.
- Tripod: Due to the slow shutter speeds it will be next to impossible to get sharp pictures of water without using a tripod so get used to carrying it. A remote shutter release and mirror-lock up in will be required for those water pictures that take us seconds and minutes. In the case where you come across an image where you wish to capture it as a silky smooth ribbon and you find yourself without a tripod resting the camera on a rock or other solid platform and using live view so you can see the image through the LCD can often save the day.