H 2 OHHHHH-Capture The Water

Scientifically, water exists in three states
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Scientifically, water exists in three states. It can be solid in the form of ice, liquid, as it's most commonly associated, and gas in the form of steam. It can be a docile woodland stream or hurricane-force waves that pound the shore. As ice, it can take on beautifully crystalized patterns, and as a gas, look like prehistoric shapes in clouds. Regardless of its state, it makes a great subject.

Emphasize The Motion: Dependent upon the shutter speed with which water is photographed, it can be made to take on different moods. A waterfall shot at 1/1000th of a second depicts every drop frozen in time and provides the viewer with a statement of power. The same composition photographed with a long shutter conveys peace and tranquility as it softly cascades down rocks, navigates wildflower islands and paints the sensor with a "cotton candy" effect. In order to photograph the scene with a fast shutter speed, it may be necessary to boost the ISO on the camera. Conversely, to create the shot with a slow shutter, lower the ISO and use neutral density filters of varying strengths until you get the speed and effect you desire. Use the LCD on the back of the camera to preview your results and make changes accordingly.

Polarize It: Use a polarizer to remove glare from the rocks and vegetation. In wet areas, the water that covers everything in the composition will be bright and create distractions. The polarizer cuts through this glare and reveals the color and detail that sits under the moisture. The result is greater saturation and fewer highlights to pull your eye away from the main subject. The effect is seen through the viewfinder as you spin the polarizer, which makes the proper orientation easy to reconcile.

Work the Composition: When you compose the image, reduce the number of elements so the action, shape, color, or form of the water becomes the focal point. Try to incorporate balance with related items in the environment. In the photo taken along the Oregon coast, the small crashing wave becomes a focal point because of its brightness. The pool acts like a mirror, which reflects the rock. This creates balance to the foreground. The three sets of sea stacks balance each other along the top third of the frame.

Use the Light: Many photographers photograph water in overcast light as the overall exposure is more even, less contrasty and bright highlights don't become a distraction. While I totally agree with this philosophy, it doesn't mean I don't photograph states of water on sunny days. As a matter of fact, I love the challenge. Meter for the highlights, and let the shadows fall where they may. If the scene's contrast is too much for the sensor to handle, move on to a new situation or make a bracketed series that can be merged to HDR software. I encourage you to photograph ice in bright sun as it creates specular highlights that act as focal points. Frozen crystals along a streambed make great subjects, as do icicles. A carefully placed specular highlight can mean the difference between a throw away and a photo that gets hung on the wall.

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1 Comment

    One little quibble: clouds aren’t gaseous water – they are fine liquid water droplets. Water vapor is essentially invisible, although it can create a haziness. Otherwise, good ideas. I’m heading over to Mono Lake tomorrow to do some water shots and night sky photos.

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