Nature Photography Tips Tricks and Techniques

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Photographing Water - Part 1

This is a pretty big subject, so I am going to make it into several short tips.

One of the things I get asked most about my photographs is how I get water to have a milky appearance. See Misty Mountain Stream for example. It is not the result of filtration or darkroom magic, it is simply the result of using a long shutter speed (i.e., 1/2 second or longer) during the exposure. As the water rushes by quickly, the image is blurred on the film, causing the milky appearance. You can change the effect by changing your shutter speed. Misty Mountain Stream was created with a 4 second shutter speed which is the cause of the extreme appearance of the water.

Most of the time I need a long shutter speed in order to achieve the depth of field that I require, so the milky appearance happens by default. However, you can consciously affect the way your water pictures look.

I have found that the shortest shutter speed that will cause good water blur is 1/15s. Adjust this figure up or down to suit your tastes. I personally like the effect, and, for my tastes, a shutter speed of 1/2s is ideal. Of course, this all depends on how fast the water is moving as well.

To achieve the opposite effect...that is to freeze the motion of the need to use a fast shutter speed such as 1/250s or higher. Freezing the motion of the water is very dependent upon the speed at which it is moving. So while I may be able to freeze the motion of the Hudson River at 1/60s, Niagara Falls would need at least 1/500s.

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