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Water photography, Part 2 (09/21/2008)
By Tom Hirsch

When photographing a quiet lake or pond, our intent is to convey the feeling of peacefulness and tranquility - but that was covered last time. Now we want to show the dynamics of water thatís in a hurry.

A river or stream photographed horizontally will appear calm and serene in a picture; aiming the camera up or downstream with the subject placed diagonally in the frame will result in a photo of flowing or rushing water. This concept also applies to things on the water. A boat will double or triple its speed if itís moving diagonally in a picture.

A wide angle lens also tends to increase the apparent speed of water and boats, and the more the subject fills the frame the better.

Usually, a photo of a river or stream should include both shorelines. This will give a feeling of completeness, provide size and depth perspective, and furnish a frame for the image. A few well placed shoreline trees can give additional framing.

Objects on or near the water can add a great deal to the dynamics of a photograph. In the case of a river, this might be boats, boat docks, birds, islands, or anything else associated with a river.

Things that can make a photo of a stream more picturesque include overhanging trees or branches, rocks, people fishing, or the ripples of the water going over and around the rocks and fallen trees. Just the pattern created by a meandering brook can add impact to a scenery shot.

Waves caused by heavy winds on a lake or river always add a dynamic element to a photo. During unsettled weather, almost any sky condition is appropriate. Interesting cloud formations can enhance the feeling of turbulence on the water. On sunny days, sidelighting is great for bringing out the texture of the swells. With backlighting, the water will pick up the sparkle of sunlight on the waves. Donít forget to increase exposure or use the backlight button for side or backlighting, unless you want a silhouette effect.

A photographer with an adjustable 35mm, APS (Advanced Photo System) or digital camera can use shutter speed to control the effect of flowing water in a photograph. In most cases, 1/500 or faster will virtually freeze splashing water, breaking waves, fast flowing streams or gushing waterfalls; 1/15 or slower will give a soft, fluid effect, essentially neutralizing any turbulence. Remember to use a tripod with slow shutter speeds. A camera or lens with image stabilization (IS) can also be used for camera steadiness.

The choice of shutter speed is strictly personal. Either fast or slow can be appropriate for water in motion. To see if you prefer the effect of one over the other, try both, and try a few shots beyond the given extremes. At slow shutter speeds you might have to switch to an ISO 100 film or digital setting. A slower film or a polarizing filter, or ISO setting of 50 (if available) on a digital camera would help you get slower shutter speeds.

Quite often the swirling activity of water along the bank of a turbulent river or waves rolling onto the shore of a large lake or sea can be as photographically rewarding as the larger body of water itself. For a dynamic effect, compose the shots so the shoreline runs diagonally in the frame. Any focal length lens and shutter speed can be used, but probably the best results will be obtained with a wide angle lens and fast shutter speed while shooting at a low angle close to the water. Try a variety of combinations because the results are unpredictable. But do everything you can to keep the camera dry.

We might travel many miles to visit a scenic spot that boasts a stream, lake, river or waterfall as its main attraction, only to come home with snapshots. If we would plan our picture taking, we could create memories worthy of displaying. 


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