Did you enjoy this article? Share it!
by Claire Gillo on 29th Apr 2010
Capture inspiring images of the open ocean to a singular drop of water
This month DCE takes you through the essential guide to water photography covering all aspect of the area. Water is a powerful substance and has symbolic presence in photography, as it is the reason to our existence on this planet. Water is a fantastic subject matter to capture and the diverse range of its form means a variety of photographic methods can be applied and different effects can be achieved.
In this month’s tutorial DCE shows you how to capture a range of subject matter from fast moving rivers with slow shutter speeds to intense reflections in large still lakes. Submerge under the water surface and get in close to a single drop in the comfort of your own home. This month’s feature is a must have for any beginner photographer who wants to improve their water photography skills. We reveal easy methods for achieving excellent results whether you have a compact camera or DSLR.
Movement and exposure
Capture the flow of water by slowing down time
Water can be full of movement and this can provide some good opportunities to experiment with time. On a camera the shutter speed can be adjusted which is what will determine whether there is movement in the image. The shutter on a DSLR is the flap that opens and closes to let light onto the sensor. Rivers are the ideal subject matter to practice this technique on and can create some beautiful and atmospheric images.
On a DSLR the easiest way to control the shutter speed is to set the camera to the shutter priority mode. A shutter can also be left open and controlled manually, which is usually indicated by the B (bulb) or T (time) symbol. These settings are for very long exposures and are best for lowlight and night time photography. Don't forget to take your tripod and it is best to shoot on less windy days or in sheltered spots if you are leaving the shutter open for long periods of time.
A DSLR, hybrid or compact camera can be used for this type of photography as along as you can adjust the shutter speed.
A tripod is a must have accessory as you will need to keep the camera steady for long periods of time.
Filters can help reduce glare as they work by decreasing reflectivity in surfaces. They are also useful for keeping the end of your lens protected.
Keeping the camera still is vital, as you only want the water to be moving. Using the self-timer or a shutter release is best, as you should no be touching the camera when the shutter is open.
A lens hood can come in handy if there is sun or rain. It will help eliminate lens flare or stop drips running down the front of the lens.
Splashes: avoid splashes on your lens, as these will ruin the shot and make it difficult to focus. A lens hood can be useful however this will not completely protect the lens so avoid places where there is spray.
Water and waves -Capture the drama of the ocean
When photographing big waves the first rule is safety. Yes you want to get in close to the action however it is not worth risking your life. Stand at a safe distance and use a zoom lens to make it look like you are taking the picture from the danger spot!
The crest of a wave
Getting in close to the wave will give you the best results. A DSLR and an 80-200mm or ideally a 300mm zoom lens will do the job for most point and beach breaks waves. To help eliminate camera shake turn up the ISO between 400 and 800 and use a monopod or tripod.
When the seas are calmer look for subtle photographic moments. Footprints in the sand on the shoreline make for a romantic image and drawing in the sand can look effective as can be seen in this example. Shells on the seashore also make an excellent subject matter and can be good to use with a macro lens.
For landscape photography the sea can produce powerful and atmospheric imagery. The best time of day for shooting a seascape is at first or last light. The colours in the sky are more dramatic and will reflect in the water. Using filters can help enhance these colours.
Slow down time and capture the flow of water.
To change the shutter speed on your DSLR or compact camera (if it has manual controls) you need to look under the shutter priority mode. On Canon DSLRs this is labelled, as Tv however on most other DSLR models you will see it as S on the top dial control.
Depending on the surrounding light and speed of water flow will determine what speed to set your camera. If there is little light them you may need to open up the aperture to the widest setting e.g. f2 and adjust the ISO to a higher level e.g. ISO 800. If there is a lot of light then lowering the ISO to 100 will produce finer results and the aperture can be closed for a greater depth of field.
At this speed you won’t capture any movement in the flow of water and it will appear as drops. The camera can still be held by hand at this speed.
1 sec - Depending on the speed of the flow of water will depend on what speed to set your shutter. 1sec is enough for fast moving water but not for a slow moving flow.
2 sec - At 2 seconds the water changes texture and soften. The difference of the effect of this image to the 1-second result is noticeable.
6 sec - A long open exposure will produce a soft and blurred effect. For this exposure time shoot in lowlight and have a narrow depth of field e.g. f22.
Reflections, landscape and water photography
Still water can produce some interesting and intense reflections, which work especially well in landscape photography. Lakes are the perfect source for sharp reflections if you are shooting on a still day. On a windy day the results will look different as there will be ripples on the surface however this can still look effective. If you are using a tripod then use your body to shelter the camera or shoot from a less windy spot.
For reflection photography mountains make excellent subject matter as they produce stunning reflections and make dramatic images. The sunset and sunrise are good times to capture this type of scenery, as the colours are more impressive. If you are shooting in the day then try to shoot when there are clouds in the sky as this gives the reflection more depth and texture. Reflections in water landscape photography are not just found in lakes as puddles or still rivers are also ideal.
Exposure compensation - Correctly expose your images
Get it right in camera
Although a lot can be corrected postproduction it is always best to get the right exposure in camera. If your shot has a high dynamic range i.e. a wide contrast between the shadows and highlights then use the exposure compensation button as is shown here. What this essentially does is takes the image one or two stops above or below the average reading. Take one shot on the average, one above and one below as you will have all areas correctly exposed and can edit them together.
Water and sky
A graduated filter is a filter that has a gradient from the top to bottom meaning one end filters the light and it fades out to a clear screen. These types of filters can be most useful if you have a bright sky and darker foreground. To use the graduated filter it is best to make sure the horizon is level and set the line where the filter ends so it covers the sky.
Under water photography
Submerge your camera below the surface
Underwater photography can produce some fantastic results however there are a few more obstacles to get around. Firstly work in the clearest possible water. Water is 800 times denser than air so the light is going to be much less even in shallow depths. Water will also produce a heavy cyan (blue-green) cast as essentially you are shooting in a big filter. To achieve rich, vibrant colours underwater photography use an artificial light (a strobe) and work close to your subject matter. Know your limitations and plan what you want to achieve from your shoot.
Stay close to the surface
The reflections created under the water can be just as or even more impressive than the ones on top. Shooting close to the surface will produce more vibrant colours and light is less filtered and will provide richer results. If in deep water make sure you attach your camera to yourself, as it will sink to the bottom.
Pre set your camera
Shooting underwater is tricky and you don't want to miss the moment due to fiddling around with settings. Not only this it can be hard to change them underwater. Preset your camera before you dive in. As there is less light underwater you will need to set the ISO to a higher number and keep the aperture wide.
Protect your equipment
Whether you want to take underwater photography seriously or not if you are going to submerge your equipment then investing in a good casing is vital. There are many manufacturers on the market. In the next issue of DCE (97) we put four tough underwater compacts to the test so watch out for that review.
Weather and water
Ice, snow, rain and fog. Get the most from the bad water weather
In landscape photography then water comes in many forms. Shooting in rain or fog can produce some excellent results however remember to take a lens cloth. Fog can be hard to capture and more often than not it is about being in the right place at the right time. To maximise your advantage fog looks the best at dawn with the first light and is more likely to be around at this time. Remember to take your tripod, as at this time the lowlight will require longer shutter speeds.
In bad weather remember to protect your equipment. This does not involve purchasing lots of fancy equipment as a couple bins liners and a roll of sticky tape can work wonders. Remember to set up a system that lets you access your camera to change settings. To avoid condensation forming in the camera and lens, make sure that that camera stays sealed in the camera bag for a while after returning indoors.
When shooting in dark and windy conditions a high ISO number is unavoidable when taking shots in bad weather however don’t let this put you off. Noise is not a disaster so try to use it to your advantage by creating grainy looking images. Switching them to black and white post shoot can look effective.
Abstract photography and water
Getting in close to water can produce some amazing imagery. To approach this type of photography a macro lens is useful, as it will produce sharper results however if you do not own this equipment do not panic. With a bit of experimenting good results can still be achieved and generally practice makes perfect. An extension tube can be useful (see last months DCE lens tutorial) as this is cheaper then a macro lens and will allow you to focus right in on the drop.
To capture a water drop it is best to focus the camera using the manual mode. Set the point where you anticipate the drop to fall and use an object (a pen or pencil usually does the job nicely) to focus. Remember to get the perfect water drop image you will take lots of images so not feel disheartened if you do not get the results you are after straight away. This type of photography can be easily achieved in the comfort of your own home. See the set up guide and get shooting.
How to capture a water drop
Chose your container. A glass, fish tank, or anything with a clear surface will be ideal. Fill the tank with some water as this makes ripples when the drip hits the surface.
Make a drip. A plastic bag with a pinprick hole will be sufficient for this. Make sure you don't make the hole too big as you want a drip not a waterfall!
Light the drop. Either set the equipment up near a window which will provide natural light or use a table lamp. Using colour card or material will change the background colour.
Set the camera to continuous shutter speed. Use either the manual or shutter priority mode. You want the shutter to fire around 1/200sec. Focus the camera using the manual mode.
Practice makes perfect. Shoot lots of images to get a few good ones. You can use a tripod however if you are shooting at fast speeds then the camera can be handheld.
Other abstract methods
Get up close and create some abstract images
Dropping objects in water
Any object can be dropped into water and can produce some effective and fun images. It can be easier to get somebody else to drop the object(s) into the water. The higher the drop the more bubbles created. A white background can look cleaner and a continuous shutter speed will help achieve better results.
Ink in water
Again generally a white background will look best for this type of photography however experimenting with different approaches can produce surprising results. Drop a small amount of ink into a glass and photograph the pattern as it spreads. This is a slower movement so shooting at a single shutter speed rate should be sufficient.
To achieve the perfect ripple image start with a completely still surface of water and use a narrow depth of field so the image is sharp throughout. Use a tripod, set the focal point and put the camera onto continuous shutter speed. Disturb the water with a stick or object and fire the camera.
Just after a rain shower is the perfect time for capturing macro rain drop shots. This type of image can be easily found in the garden and the bigger the leaf the more drops. If there is a dry spell in the weather you can cheat and spray water over the plants and leaves.
Tips from a Pro
Patrick Strik reveals his professional top tips for water photography
I'm 35 years old and a freelance photographer from Holland. My love of photography started about 8 years ago, thanks to my wife. It all began with the Nikon F50 and I found the best way to learn the art of photography is to use film. This will help your compositional skills and think about exposure and settings before you take the shot. I love shooting anything that comes in front of my camera and a day without my camera is a bad day. Photography makes me forget everything and gives me peace of mind.
1. Water is alive so you always need to think ahead. To get different colours use a big bowl and put some coloured paper underneath. Never use the in camera flash. I always shoot water with the help of my torch or a lamp.
2. Always try new stuff when it comes to water and other subject matter. You can find something interesting anywhere, even in the back garden. You can do without a macro lens; however don't forget your UV filter, as water will destroy your glass.
3. When shooting water seascapes use the best available light. Evening light will give you the most desired effect and remember your tripod. Timing is everything so wait as long as you can to get the shot.
4. Use a narrow depth of field for a sharper effect. Water is a great abstract subject and can come alive in the strangest of places. Don't turn on the shower until you are close with your camera. First open the tab then come in closer with your camera.
Return to features archive »