How to photograph moving water

Moving water makes a powerful subject for most landscape photography portfolios. While ethereal shots of stationary mountains and valleys make a strong photograph, a stunning running water shot takes your photography skills a notch higher.

But, capturing running water in all its glory is not an easy task to accomplish. For most amateur photographers and even for some seasoned ones, capturing moving water is an art difficult to master. However, this does not mean that you cannot accomplish the feat.

All you need is a better understanding of the art and the technicalities that can help you brave this challenge like a pro. Without further ado, let’s dig into this set of quick and simple tips to help you capture stunning shots of running water.

How to photograph moving water

Eagle Falls Lake Tahoe at Sunrise

The Location

When you talk about moving water, the options are infinite for you to choose from. You can capture rain or river, the waves in the ocean or the waterfalls dropping from greater heights – there is absolutely no boundaries on the images you can capture when it comes to moving water.

So when you’re choosing a location, there are three basic things that you should be looking for:

  • The place is geographically convenient and accessible.
  • Your subject (the running body of water) is energetic and dramatic with a strong backdrop.
  • The surroundings can make a great composition.

An ideal location is mostly subjective, but as long as your eye can see a potential shot there – I say you go for it!

The Technicalities

The Tripod

You need to keep the camera stable. So, keep your tripod with you. This is the one I use the Me Foto it’s great for any size camera.  Find a flat surface to station your tripod and balance your camera on it for long exposure images that give that silky effect to the running water.

The Shutter Speed

You need to keep the shutter speed slow. Start testing the image quality from 1/2 second shutter speed and then adjust accordingly. The slow shutter speed helps you bring that heavenly feel to the moving water you capture. Different shutter times will have a different effect on the moving water giving it a different look. 

The Aperture

Keep your aperture at least at f/11. This will give you greater depth of field and keep the entire composition of the image in focus. In case you’re capturing waterfalls, make sure you combine a small aperture with a long exposure for the most compelling shots of waterfalls. The brighter it is the higher you want the f-stop to be.  

The ISO

You need to eliminate as much noise as you can from the image when capturing running water. A lower ISO can help you with that. The best quality running water images come from your cameras native ISO. If you are unsure what that is for your camera stick to ISO 100, this is most cameras native ISO. If it is too bright out, lower the ISO to the lowest possible setting. Some cameras go down as far as ISO 30.

Keep in mind that you’re out to take a spectacular shot, so it’s important to make every attempt count. Just keep shooting. 

How to photograph moving water

Miami Beach Sunrise

The Light

No image can be complete without the appropriate light. Keep in mind that you’re allowing ample exposure to your image with the slow shutter speed. Capturing the image in bright natural light puts your image at the risk of overexposure that can ruin the image altogether. For lesser exposure to natural light, try capturing moving water at sunrise or sunset. An overcast day is a perfect time for these images too.

Let’s Talk Filters

Natural density filter or the “ND” filter works best for moving water images. This filter is excellent for reducing the amount of exposure in the image and works impeccably with slow shutter speeds to allow greater depth of field. This is the kit I use, the Tiffen 77mm Digital Neutral Density Filter Kit make sure you get the right size for your lens. 

Summing It Up…

Every great photographer has years of practice and tons of failed images behind them. Getting the location and technicality right is a start; you get to learn more as you progress into this particular genre of photography. So take it slow. Practice. Make mistakes and most importantly, learn from them! Now go out and capture your very own moving water and remember to just keep shooting. 

 

About the Author

Edin Chavez
Travel junkie, animal lover, troublemaker, daydreamer and a bit obsessed with my camera. Addicted to documentaries, coffee, hot sauce, and blue cheese.
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