Without water, life as we know it couldn’t exist. With this in mind, it’s time to give some attention to water photography. Water can be captured in a multitude of ways, it appears in many places, it comes in many forms, and it provides a myriad of photographic possibilities. It has moods based on its flow rate, power, location, the light, and method used for its capture. While there are many more than three tips to help you make better water shots, use the ones I share below to begin your quest. If you make a connection using them, “go with the flow” to dig deeper into the topic.
Slow It Down: To show the artistic side of water, use a slow shutter speed. Use low ISO and set your aperture to its smallest setting. This will provide the slowest possible shutter speed. Attaching a polarizer to your lens has two benefits: It absorbs light so you can get a slower shutter and it removes glare from areas where the water sprays. The spray robs what’s underneath its saturation. Slowed down water is best shot on an overcast day or in the shade. The overcast light allows you to attain a slower shutter and the contrast ratio is reduced. Water photographed in bright sun creates hot spots with blown out highlights. If the desired effect requires multiple second exposures, purchase a neutral-density filter of no less than 3 stops. I have a 3 and 6 stop in addition to a variable ND filter, which allows me to dial in neutral density up to 8 stops. They can go up to 10, but cross polarization artifacts begin to creep in, so my cut off is 8.
Look For Reflections: Still water provides a setting for gorgeous reflections. Be it a calm lake or a rain-soaked puddle in a city pothole, note how subjects reflect into their stillness. It’s essential the wind is calm so ripples don’t obliterate the mirrored effect. The air is often still at sunrise and sunset, which is a bonus since the light is best at these times of the day. If you’re in the city after a big rain, don’t overlook the shine on roads, which also provides a great reflection. If there’s an indentation in the road, look for a puddle. Cityscapes at night work great right after a rain as even a car’s taillights or headlights are reflected. Other potential water reflections can appear in a still pool of a stream, a low fountain, a birdbath, a frozen lake and more, so keep your eyes open for all possibilities.
Show The Power: Contrary to the above tip that explains how to slow down water, when photographed with a fast shutter, water’s power is revealed. When every suspended drop is frozen in mid air, its sheer force and vigor are displayed. Slow water exudes tranquility, calmness and a peaceful feeling, while water photographed with a fast shutter speed exhibits just the opposite. To capture water this way, raise the ISO to a value that still provides great image quality from your camera. Remove all filters that rob the sensor of light. Still use a polarizer, if needed, to remove glare from the water’s surface. Open your aperture to its widest setting. If you have a fast lens and the focal length nets a great composition, use it. Look for situations where an image made in the sun works. It’s one of the few times that direct front light can be used to your advantage. Shoot in bursts, as it’s impossible to predict the pattern of frozen drops. In every sequence you make, one will be better than the others. I love to photograph crashing waves, whether they impact rocks or simply curl into water patterns—give them a try.
Go out and give these three tips a run for their money. While you’re at it, if you come across more situations with water, make some pictures. Keep your eyes open to all possibilities and don’t overlook the small details. A macro image of a single water drop can make a killer photograph!
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