Photography of Moving Water

May 27th, 2012

I recently purchased a 64x neutral density filter to help me capture the different effects when photographing images of water movement.  Depending on the effect you are going after, will determine the best settings and equipment required to achieve the particular result.
Water flows smoothly amongst the rocks in a fast moving stream (Ian C Whitworth)

Grindstone Creek 0.4 seconds, f32, ISO 400


Your shutter speed will make a big difference in the result:

  • shutter speeds of approximately 1/100th of a second and faster will freeze the movement of the water
  • slower speeds of around 1/30th of a second will start to introduce some motion blur and a softer appearance
  • once you start to get into the one second range and greater, you will see a silky or milky look for fast running water in rivers or water falls and if it is waves you are capturing, you will see a misty type effect

Winter view at the brink of the Canadian falls (Ian C Whitworth)

Niagara Falls 1/320, f5.6, ISO 100

To freeze the water action, you will need enough light for the faster shutter speed and bumping up the ISO and using a wider aperture may be required in lower light conditions.  If you want to capture some movement in your water image and your shutter speed is to fast, use the lowest ISO (usually 100), utilize a small aperture of about f22 and this will help to reduce your speed.

Once your speed is reduced, be sure to use a tripod and remember the other factors available to reduce camera shake in conjunction with your sturdy tripod such as:

  • turn off your image stabilization if applicable
  • use the timer or remote shutter release
  • turn on mirror lock up

 (Ian C Whitworth)

Webster’s Falls 1.6 seconds, f22, ISO 100, 64x ND filter

Beyond your camera settings, other help is available to reduce the light entering your camera and ultimately allowing that nice motion blur or misty wave effect.  It is the neutral density filter, such as the one I mention I had purchase at the beginning of my blog. ND filters are available in varying strengths and the one I mentioned is very strong and can take a bright sunny day and allow you to keep your shutter open for a second or more depending on your settings.  It slows things down by six stops!
Oakville lighthouse in the evening light with a 30 second exposure (Ian C Whitworth)

Oakville Lighthouse & Lake Ontario Shoreline 30 seconds, f18, ISO 250, 64x ND filter

So in closing, hopefully the above tips and image examples will aid you in capturing the moving water images you had hoped for and I may see you and your tripod at a water fall in the future!

 (Ian C Whitworth)

Webster’s Falls 2 seconds, f22, ISO 100, 64x ND filter


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