John Harvey Photo

Learn To Take Photos of Water
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Just try to keep the camera out of it.

Considering water is transparent, it takes a surprisingly signifigant role in photography

Water Falls

Glowing Waterfall
Waterfalls are probably the most common subject in water photos.  Waterfalls can be surprisingly hard to photograph well.  Ideally you want to make a deliberate choice about how blurry the water will appear and where the brightest part of your image is.   Like much of wildlife/natural photography, the scene you are presented is what you have - take it or leave it - so a truely great waterfall photo often relies on chance lighting.  Where your skill comes in is composition and exposure.

Mid FallsMore Columnar Basalt

Composition for water falls seems to be pretty much the same as composition for photography in general.  Exposure is the challenge.  Waterfalls, depending on how close you are, how fast the water is moving (a function of height) and how much "veil" you want, generally expose well in the .5 seconds to 4 seconds.  The only way to be really sure is to take the shot and look it - OK on a digital, painful on film.  Finally, consider brightness.  If white water makes up a substantial part of your picture, you may have to over expose.

Water Splash at Different Speeds

Non Symmetric Right Left
Perhaps the most common "special effect" in photography is to capture water drops frozen in air by using a fast shutter speed.  While the long blurring veils of water are generally shot at greater than half a second (4 seconds being long), frozen action generally happens beyond about 1/250th of a second.  Again, lighting (the proportion of the scene that is white) can effect your meter reading.

Water as a Reflector

Yellow Pond-Lily - Nuphar polysepalum - On Lake
Two things need happen - you have to be on placed to receive the reflected image (Brewsters angle for the physics inclined), and the light source generally has to be brighter than the ambient light falling on the water surface.  It helps if the water is still, but it isn't a requirement.

Reflecting Pond

Water as Receiving surface
Because humans have expectations about what colour water should be, it can be effective at demonstrating what colour was actually seen.  Sunsets are particularly problematic - the light for a few minutes is beautiful, but if you have nothing notable to photograph, your opportunity is wasted.  Add water, you have "kept" your light.

Sunset Lit Smoke CloudStephen And His SunsetDodd Narrows Past Sunset

Water as a Transport Mechanism
The most common example of this is leaves on a slow stream or pedals on a pool.  These are long exposures (>4 seconds, sometimes 20 or 30 seconds) so you may require a neutral density filter along with slow film and a small apature.  You want to ensure it's a bright thing over a dark background because you can't have motion blur of a dark thing over a bright background (thank gamma).

The Big Finish

Oh, and your probably want to put the stuff in the water yourself because otherwise you will be waiting forever.

Long Exposure Wave Wash

Water Fog on Rock
Where you have substanial waves (generally ocean), you can get a nice fog effect.  Depending on the strength of the waves, you need a several second exposure to capture a few washes.  Having light on the water helps.

Use Water as a Lens
Water can be used as a lens.  With enough macro length, you can do things with that.

Mid Falls
Tags: long exposure, waterfall
More Columnar Basalt
Tags: columnar basalt, Japan, waterfall
Sunset Lit Smoke Cloud
Tags: cloud, sunset
The Big Finish
Tags: fall colour, stream, swirling, VanDusen
Glowing Waterfall
Location: Go To...
Tags: Japan, long exposure, waterfall
Dodd Narrows Past Sunset
Tags: sunset, wave
Stephen And His Sunset
Person: Stephen
Location: Go To...
Tags: gulf island, orange sky, silhouette, sunset
Non Symmetric Right Left
Tags: gyser, New Zealand, volcanism
Yellow Pond-Lily - Nuphar polysepalum - On Lake
Species: Nuphar lutea (yellow pond-lily)
Tags: lake, reflection
Reflecting Pond
Location: Go To...
Tags: gulf island, reflection
Water Fog on Rock
Tags: beach, rock, sunset, wave
Tags: sunset(4), waterfall(3), long exposure(2), Japan(2), reflection(2), gulf island(2)
People: Stephen(1)
From: John Harvey Photo > Learn Photography > Learn Water Photography Photography

This an amazing site, It's really helpful. Thanks alot
Sunday, June 24th, 2007 at 11:47:59

wonderful tips, thank you!
Rebecca Gruhl
Friday, June 29th, 2007 at 07:34:49

It was very helpful and it had great examples. Thank you!
Joshua Lewis
Tuesday, November 13th, 2007 at 12:42:23

Hi, I am trying to learn night photography and I stumble onto your site. Great photos and very grateful for the tips.
Thursday, April 24th, 2008 at 20:58:11

Thanks very much for the worthy information i Realy appreciate your works,,,
Adeeb Ghlilat
Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008 at 12:01:35

Great tips on composition! It is very helpful for beginner photographers like me.
Wednesday, November 5th, 2008 at 22:27:44

Great site....I am getting back into photography after a several year hiatus. Your site has re-enforced many things that I was foggy about as well as picking up several new tips. Thank you for taking the time to put this site together. I know they are a great deal of work. John
Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008 at 12:07:35

This is a very informative site. Great tips!
Monday, December 22nd, 2008 at 23:44:44

So many questions were answered on this site. Thank you so much!
Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008 at 15:29:19

awesome! :D so much learned :D
Saturday, January 15th, 2011 at 06:11:19

This site has a very simple layout, which makes it easy to scroll through and learn from, I am a young photographer currently starting a project specifically on water. This helped me a lot to understand the different settings and combinations to use with my work, thank you for taking the time to set it up :)
Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011 at 03:52:21

Great tips in there, absolutely love some of the waterfalls shots. Thanks :)
Saturday, June 6th, 2015 at 23:53:06

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