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Photographing Water


Canon 5D camera and Canon 24mm f1.4 Aspherical lens

Canon 5D camera and Canon 24mm f1.4 Aspherical lens


Water is fantastic subject matter for photographers, providing numerous ways by which we can perceive the world. It can be transparent, allowing light to pass through and reveal the world below its surface. When translucent water only partly reveals and, as a consequence, maintains a sense of mystery with what lies below.

In the landscape it is the reflective nature of water to which photographers are usually drawn. Weather patterns move across and interact with the surface of the water, mirroring the many moods (placid, turbulent, etc) of the sky above.

Landscape photographers need to consider the qualities, mood and relative energy of the subject prior to determining how it should be photographed. It’s just silly to expect the landscape to fall into line with our own preconceived ideas. While we may have left home hoping for wild, crashing surf we may well arrive to a flat, still sea. As the saying goes, “some days a diamond, some days a stone”. The trick is to be prepared for anything and yet be open to what the world offers on any particular day.

When photographing moving water (e.g. waterfall) several things have to be considered. Do you want to render the falling water sharp, as though your image has literally frozen a moment in time? In this case you’d employ a very fast Shutter Speed (e.g. 1/1000 second) to freeze the moving water.

With the same subject you might also consider making an image that displays the notion of movement within a still frame. To achieve this you’d apply a somewhat slower Shutter Speed (e.g. 1/8 second) to record the movement of the water during the exposure. Of course as long as the camera and other important elements (cliff face, rocks, ferns, etc) don’t move during the exposure you will achieve the effect of movement within a still frame.

Successful recording of movement within the still frame is dependant on the following:

  •       How fast the water is moving
  •       The Shutter Speed at which you shoot

To achieve the mist-like effect created by water moving through a still frame simply shoot at a relatively slow shutter speed, probably 1/8 second or slower, depending on how fast the water’s moving. The slower the water’s movement, the slower your shutter speed will need to be to obtain the desired result.

To achieve such a slow shutter speed on a bright sunny day ensure that your camera is set to the default ISO (100 for Canon and 200 for Nikon) and close your Aperture down, towards f 22, until you arrive at the desired Shutter Speed. Many folks find it simpler to set their camera to Aperture Priority (AV on a Canon and A on a Nikon) and dial in f 22. The camera will automatically choose what it thinks is the right Shutter Speed to achieve a good exposure. That’s not to say that the camera will get the exposure right. Often it won’t, but that explanation is for another day.

In the above example you’ll notice that as the water in the foreground falls over the rocks its movement is accelerated. This is why it appears more blurred compared to the relatively still water in the background. This has nothing to do with Depth of Field (DOF), which is holding foreground and background relatively sharp right through the image, rather movement of the water relative to the Shutter Speed employed.

The image is question was made with a Canon 5D camera and Canon 24mm f 1.4 L series Aspherical lens. And for those dying to know, the Shutter Speed was 2 1/2 seconds and the Aperture f 22.

© Copyright All Rights Reserved

Glenn Guy, Blue Sky Photography


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