Photographing Water in Motion by Jennifer Wu

 

Iceland waterfall: Canon 5D mark II, 24-70 mm lens at 24 mm, f/16, Shutter speed .6, ISO 100. I used a polarizing filter. Smooth effect. © Jennifer Wu

Iceland waterfall: Canon 5D mark II, 24-70 mm lens at 24 mm, f/16, Shutter speed .6, ISO 100. I used a polarizing filter. Smooth effect. © Jennifer Wu

Text and photos © Jennifer Wu

Photographing moving water at varying shutter speeds produces different looks, from a silky effect to frozen detail. When photographing the ocean surf, waterfalls, streams or any moving water, I often bracket the shutter speeds to create a variety of results.

In the vertical waterfall image in Iceland, above, the water appears smooth and gauzy. The horizontal image of the same waterfall, below, presents more detail, permitting more shape with enough blur to endow the shot with a sense of motion. I like both effects, so I vary the shutter speed to get more or less detail. When bracketing the shutter speeds, review each image on view screen to judge the results.  If you see silky water with no detail where it is all white, move to a faster shutter speed. If there is too much detail where the water looks like ice, use a slower shutter to add enough blur for a velvety water effect.

Iceland waterfall: Canon 5D mark II, 24-70 mm lens at 24 mm, f/16, Shutter speed 1/10, ISO 100. I used a polarizing filter. More detail in the water with a faster shutter speed. © Jennifer Wu

Iceland waterfall: Canon 5D mark II, 24-70 mm lens at 24 mm, f/16, Shutter speed 1/10, ISO 100. I used a polarizing filter.
More detail in the water with a faster shutter speed. © Jennifer Wu

Shutter Speed Choice:

How fast or slow the water is moving is a factor to help decided shutter speed for the amount of blur or detail. A slow versus fast moving stream will have different effects at the same shutter speed. In addition, wider-angle lenses show less apparent motion compared to a telephoto from the same distance.

Several factors to help decide the shutter speed:

  • The flow rate of the water – slower shutter for more blur with slow moving streams
  • The amount of blur or detail you want – slower shutter for more blur
  • Distance to the subject – the water flow appears faster the closer you are
  • Focal length of the lens – slower shutter for wide-angle lenses for more blur

Waterfalls all fall at the same rate weather they are a faint stream or large waterfall. They gain momentum with the distance. The air resistance is the only factor that will effect the rate of water falling.

I photographed the waterfall in Iceland while leading a photography tour with Jim Martin. In the horizontal image, I used a .6 second shutter speed for a satiny effect, while the vertical image has a 1/10 shutter speed to show more detail.

Yosemite waterfall with rainbow. Using 1/125 of a second or faster with a medium telephoto lens helps stop the action on a waterfall and give it some detail. Photographed with the 70-300mm lens at 244mm, f/11, 1/250 second, ISO 200. Polarizer used to enhance the rainbow. Be careful as you can make the rainbow disappear when completely polarized. © Jennifer Wu

Yosemite waterfall with rainbow. Using 1/125 of a second or faster with a medium telephoto lens helps stop the action on a waterfall and give it some detail. Photographed with the 70-300mm lens at 244mm, f/11, 1/250 second, ISO 200.
Polarizer used to enhance the rainbow. Be careful as you can make the rainbow disappear when completely polarized. © Jennifer Wu

In Yosemite, 1/125 of a second contributed some detail in the fast moving waterfalls. By contrast, I prefer 1/15to 1/30 of a second to smooth the slower moving water on the floor of water the valley.

Use a really fast shutter speed to stop the action of moving water. For waves at the ocean, I use around a 1/1000 of a second to get the detail in the splash.  Each droplet freezes.

In the next examples, the ocean images have a 10 to 13 second exposure to blur the water, transforming the surf into a fog.

Morro Bay rocks and surf, Canon 5D mark II, 24-70 mm lens at 24 mm, f/16, 10 seconds, ISO 100. I used a 3-stop neutral density filter and a polarizer to smooth out the ocean surf. © Jennifer Wu

Morro Bay rocks and surf, Canon 5D mark II, 24-70 mm lens at 24 mm, f/16, 10 seconds, ISO 100.
I used a 3-stop neutral density filter and a polarizer to smooth out the ocean surf. © Jennifer Wu

 

Tripod: Using a STURDY tripod will be necessary for the slow shutter speeds. They are still a good idea for higher shutter speeds as they aid in fine-tuning the final composition. Keep in mind it is often windy at the base of a waterfall or around the ocean surf. Weigh down the tripod if necessary to avoid vibration or tipping.

Exposure: when taking a photograph, I decide whether the shutter speed or f/stop is the most important and set that first. Normally, I use manual mode and set the shutter speed first, followed by the f/stop.  Next, I set ISO, ideally the native ISO for the camera, such as ISO 100 for Canon, or 200 for Nikon. Native resolution produces the least noise.  If the shutter speed is too slow, I raise the ISO to the proper exposure.  Finally, I add a filter, as discussed below.

Shutter Speed:  In order to get slow shutter speeds for the satiny effect, try photographing in low light conditions since full sun may demand too fast a shutter speed for slow motion. For example: photograph at low light near sunrise or sunset on sunny days, with the subject catching the first or last rays of light. Exposure it easier when he water is in the shade; be aware that your color temperature will change, shifting toward blue. Overcast conditions work well most of the time.

Filters: Using a polarizer will reduce your shutter speed time by about two f-stops. Turn the polarizer to see the effect on shiny rock surfaces and note how the reduced glare reveals detail and form. However, be careful when using a polarizer so as not to take out desired colorful reflections. Neutral density filters (not graduated neutral density filters), grey in color, will reduce the light to the sensor, allowing for a slower shutter speed.

Morro Bay sunset: Canon 5D mark II, F/16, 13 seconds, ISO 100. I used a 5-stop neutral density filter to obtain the softness of the waves. © Jennifer Wu

Morro Bay sunset: Canon 5D mark II, F/16, 13 seconds, ISO 100.
I used a 5-stop neutral density filter to obtain the softness of the waves. © Jennifer Wu

Ideas: Water in all its forms is a dynamic subject open to many approaches. I like photographing streams in the shade with green leaves reflected onto streams in the afternoon (Yosemite’s Fern Spring is good for that). Photographing along Yosemite’s Merced River at sunrise provides the opportunity to capture the warm reflections of the mountains in the river. Fall colors, the leaves lit with sun and the water in shade reflect leaves, is a perennial favorite.

Tips for keeping the lens dry:Use a lens hood to keep spray off the lens. Carry a hand towel or pack towel to dry the camera and tripod when you return to the car from the shoot.Use a chamois cloth to wipe the droplets off the lens. Chamois are used to wipe cars dry and it works just as well on the lens. If you are in heavy spray from waterfalls, the ocean or from rain, it is helpful to carry a small sized soft absorbent pack towel to wipe the lens of most of the water, then use the chamois as it will otherwise get soaked too fast and become useless.

Tips for cleaning sea spray: First, use an air blower (not canned air) to remove any bits of sand or dust that might scratch the lens.

Next, wipe down your camera and lenses with a damp cloth to clean off the salt from the sea spray. Do this as soon as possible.

If you do get sea spray on the front element of the lens, use some lens cleaning fluid on a wipe or tissue and use that to remove it. Use lens cleaning solution and do not use abrasive or solvents. Wipe in a circular motion from the center outward. Do not put fluid directly on the lens. If it is very misty, bring the fluid and wipes with you to the ocean.

Another option is using a UV filter when at the ocean to protect the front element of the lens from the salt in the sea spray and you can clean the filter after the shoot in the same way as mentioned above.

Clean the camera eye-piece in the same way if it is needed.

Have fun photographing moving water and creating inspiring images!

Smooth Wave, Morro Bay, California: Canon 5D mark II, 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 at 135 mm, f/22, 0.4 second, ISO 100. © Jennifer Wu

Smooth Wave, Morro Bay, California: Canon 5D mark II, 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 at 135 mm, f/22, 0.4 second, ISO 100. © Jennifer Wu

 

Jennifer Wu, a professional photographer since 1992, is best known for her nature, landscape and night photography. Jennifer was named by Canon USA to the elite group of photographers, The Explorers of Light. View more of her work and check out her book and workshop offerings at www.jenniferwu.com

Jennifer will speak on “Nature’s Elusive Beauty” in one of the breakout sessions at the 2015 NANPA Summit taking place in San Diego, California from February 19th – 22nd. To learn more about the Summit and to register for this exciting and inspirational event, please visit www.naturephotographysummit.com 

South Texas for the Wildlife Photographer by Jeff Parker

Painted bunting by Jeff Parker

Painted bunting by Jeff Parker

Images and text by Jeff Parker

The desolate landscape of the South Texas Brush Country doesn’t look like much, but the biodiversity makes it one of North America’s best places for wildlife photography. It definitely ranks high on my list!

Scientists classify South Texas as a “semi-arid, sub-tropical” region. The result? Lots of wildlife! That includes a large number of bird species living at the far northern edges of their ranges.

Many—e.g. Kiskadee, Green Jay, Audubon’s Oriole, Couch’s Kingbird—are known as “South Texas Specialties.” And spring migration dramatically boosts the number of photogenic subjects that fly your way. By the end of April the summer breeders, such as Painted Buntings, Varied Buntings, and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers have arrived.

The best photography occurs when the animals grow hot and thirsty and flock to water to drink and cool off. Painted Buntings, in particular, really like their baths! This makes late-May and June prime photography time in the South Texas Brush Country.  Continue reading

Water in Motion by David DesRochers

Ausable Rapids by David DesRochers

Ausable Rapids by David DesRochers

Text and photography by David DesRochers

Ever since I was a young boy growing up in New Jersey, I loved being around water. Whether I was exploring the Rahway River near my home in Union or playing on the beach in Seaside Heights, I was fascinated with the power of moving water. It is only natural that I am still drawn to rivers, lakes, and oceans as inspiration for my photography.

I caught the nature photography bug on a trip to Glacier National Park in the year 2000. I returned home with only a few “keepers” but I knew that exploring our natural world was going to be part of my life for as long as I could hold a camera.

Early on, I photographed popular subjects such as water falls and sunsets over the ocean and tried to emulate photos I had seen. I was pleased with my result but my image looked a bit cliché. I began reading photography “how to” books and looking at photos by the masters of nature photography such as the late Galen Rowell, Art Wolfe, and David Muench, just to name a few. One lesson I learned was to slow down and spend time seeing the landscape before trying to capture its beauty. This approach helped me go beyond the obvious and I began capturing images of the “hidden beauty” within the landscape that most photographers were passing by.

Rivers and Streams

I use this approach when I photograph landscapes that include moving water. A common approach to photographing rivers, streams and waterfalls is to include the entire landscape. Wisely using the elements of composition, this approach can result in compelling photos. But, don’t stop there. After you’ve taken your standard waterfall shot, look closely at small areas within the water fall and stream. As the water tumbles over the rocks and boulders, interesting lines and shapes will begin to reveal themselves as shown in the image of the Ausable River in the Adirondacks.

My goal is to try to capture as much detail in moving water and it’s easy to lose that detail by exposing too long resulting in featureless blown out areas in your image. To get that soft flowing look that still has detail, I find that ¼ of a second shutter speed is a good starting point. The photo of the Ausable River Rapids (above) was shot at f/18, 1/5 of a second, ISO 100. Of course, the lighting conditions may require you to adjust your settings. Review your first few images and change your shutter speed as needed to get the result that you are looking for.

Oceans

The next time you visit a scenic coast line or even one not so scenic, consider passing up the temptation to compose a typical sunrise or sunset photo and take a closer look at the ever changing artistic designs created by the approaching waves. The giant waves of Hawaii offer one option (see the work of Clark Little for some real inspiration) but even the quiet waves of Cape May, New Jersey can result in a unique image.   Position yourself on a jetty or in the water and pan along with the waves as they approach the beach. The Wave photographed at sunset in Cape May, New Jersey was capture from a jetty using my Canon 7D and a 28-135 MM lens set at 95 MM and f/6.3, I found that a shutter speed of 1/8 of a second provided a nice balance of sharpness and motion blur.

The Wave by David DesRochers

The Wave by David DesRochers

If you are blessed with an intriguing ocean side composition with great light, try using the receding surf to add your own leading lines. Select a wide angle lens and set your tripod as low as possible. The waves should move past your position (yes, it’s OK to get wet). As the water begins to recede back into the ocean, push your shutter release. A shutter speed of 1 to 4 seconds, depending on available light and the speed of water will create streaks that will lead the viewer’s eye to the center of interest in your composition. A 4 or 6 stop neutral density filter may be required to achieve the desired results. The image from Rialto Beach in Olympic National Park was taken with a 1 second exposure at f/16, ISO 100. A word of caution, make sure you keep an eye on the approaching waves and be prepared to lift your tripod in the event that a unexpected large wave attempts to knock you and your camera over.

Rialto Beach by David DesRochers

Rialto Beach by David DesRochers

Be Safe and Be Inspired

The most important thing to remember is to be careful when photographing water. I discovered on more than on occasion that my lenses and cameras do not perform very well after following me into a local river. Wet rocks are a real danger so move slowly and carefully. Keen Sandals are comfortable during the hike to your location and they provide traction as you walk across rivers and streams. Worried about getting wet? Don’t be. Just bring a change of clothes and a towel and dry off when you return to the car.

Photography is a very personal endeavor and each of us must develop our own vision and style. The ever changing nature of water can provide inspiration and you will find endless opportunities to create those unique images you can truly call your own.

See more of David’s work at www.desrochersphotography.com. David also conducts photography workshops at New Jersey Audubon’s Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary.