Water is the most common thing in the world, covering seventy percent of the Earth's surface. But even as prevalent as water is, we humans are fascinated by it. Whether it's the quietness of a serene lake or the roar of a waterfall, we enjoy including water in our photographs. Because the photographic techniques differ, we will divide water photography into two categories, still and moving. In this article, emphasis will be placed on quiet water.
When photographing a puddle, a pond or a sleepy lagoon, composition is all-important. Rule one of water photography: Have something of interest in all parts of the picture. This is especially true of the water itself. A large expanse of placid water that looks beautiful in real life can be very monotonous in a photograph.
One way of adding vitality to a still water scene is to include something on or near the water. It might be fishermen in a boat, children playing along the shoreline, birds flying above the water, or leaves floating on a pond. Interesting cloud formations reflected from a lake can create awe-inspiring patterns on the surface of the water.
Sometimes reflections themselves can act as the subject. For example, taking a close-up shot of a puddle with a child posed on a tricycle ready to ride through the water would make an interesting, humorous, photo. You could include only the puddle with its reflection, the puddle and just the tire of the trike, or both the puddle and the subject. To give yourself a variety of shots, you might start out with the long shot, then move in until you're including only the puddle.
Time of day affects the mood of a lake shot. The warm colors early or late in the day can enhance the feeling of peace and tranquility. Also, the long shadows at this time of day can act as leading lines, directing the viewer's attention toward the subject.
Mirrored images on quiet water are always fascinating. In one type of shot, the subject and its reflection split the picture exactly in half. With this idea in mind, you might look for such subjects as mountain ranges, interesting cloud formations, or a colorful boat moored on a lake. The only requirement is absolutely quiet water.
If you can select the time of day for mirror-image shots, choose to shoot early in the morning before early morning boaters and the heat of the sun stir up the air. This will give you a more quiet water surface and stronger reflections.
If you're looking for the best setting for a mirror-image shot on water, go to the nearest marina or boat harbor. Because most harbors and marinas are protected by a reef or barrier, there is little chance that waves would disturb the tranquility of the water. You'll probably have perfectly calm water, but if there are moderate waves created by a boat that recently left the area, they can result in an interesting ripply effect.
When composing pictures in a harbor, you'll probably want to emphasize the reflections rather than the boats or buildings that create them. Select a location that will give you nothing in the foreground but water and the resulting reflections. The objects in the background should occupy approximately one-third of the frame, and the water and reflections in the foreground about two-thirds of the composition.
Even though water is common, it's not commonplace; we never take it for granted. Water is one of the few subjects we can't control; we can only adapt to it. This makes it unpredictable and photographically challenging. Each shot is a unique experience.