Becoming Poseidon

I used to hate science. I did poorly in high school biology and by the time I reached college, the only science class I took was Astronomy with Lab. The lab portion was just going out to Emory’s Lullwater Park at night to watch the sky with our telescopes. It was an awesome cakewalk.

Seattle Fountain

 (Jason Schlosberg)

1/1000, f/4.0, ISO 200

 (Jason Schlosberg)

1/30, f/22, ISO 200

But my fascination and love of photography brought me back to science. In an earlier post, Zen and the Art of Photography, I discussed how a good photographer embraces both the artful and technical sides of the craft. Well, what’s more Zen (and Taoist) than running water?

Waterfalls near the Alluvial Fan, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado (Jason Schlosberg)

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 1/8, f/45, ISO 100.

To control the capture of running water’s visual beauty, a photographer should be well-acquainted with some basic laws of physics. By controlling water with our cameras, we can become like Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea.

When taking a photo, light passes through the shutter and smacks up against your camera’s sensor. In “olden times,” the light would hit film, which due to its chemical properties would react to the varieties of light to create the negative. In any event, if the light moves, it would streak against the sensor (or film), resulting in a blurry image. That’s why, to avoid blur, it is important to ensure a fast shutter speed and to use a tripod.

In the case of running water, however, you may want that blur either to get a sense of motion or to achieve that beautiful, soft, ethereal whiteness we all know and love. To do so, slow down your shutter speed. Try a thirtieth (1/30) or even a quarter (1/4) second. Live dangerously and try a few seconds. Experiment to get your best effect. Factors such as water speed and quantity, as well as the available light, will impact the optimal shutter speed choice.

At the top of this post, there are two shots of running water with the exact same composition. However, the one with the crisper water was shot at 1/1000 of a second and the one with the softer flow was taken at 1/30 of a second. When taking these, I had to compensate for the light by changing the aperture and making sure that the focus was on the flowers, which served as an immobile foreground element. This was where aperture priority mode certainly came in handy. While both speeds provide pleasant results, note the emotional and visual differences.

Great Falls, Virginia  
Sole kayaker rowing upriver in the rapids, Great Falls Park, Virginia (Jason Schlosberg)

1/30, f/45, ISO 800.

Autumn leaves on wet rocks over a rushing river, Great Falls Park, Virginia (Jason Schlosberg)

.5, f/20, ISO 1600

But here’s the rub. Once you slow down your shutter speed, everything in the picture, including the surrounding elements, chance being blurred. To avoid this possibility, use a tripod. And unless it’s waterproof, keep it out of the water to avoid lasting damage.

Multiple water fountains spurting golden and blue streams, Crystal City Water Park, Arlington, Virginia (Jason Schlosberg)

Crystal City Water Park, Arlington, Virginia. 1/8, f/20, ISO 100.

But what if there is too much light? If there is, keeping the shutter open long enough to get your optimal level of water softness may actually result in an overexposed image. Not only will the water be blown out, but so will much else of the photo. The most popular solution is to shrink your aperture. This is what I did in the first pictures above. However, that would probably take away your control over the depth of field, a problem with larger landscape images. A more creative solution is to use one or more neutral density filters to decrease the amount of light that enters your camera. You can always use darker filters or just put a bunch on top of each other to experiment.

So, to sum up, here are some tips:

  • Set a slow shutter speed.
  • Shrink the aperture, or just use aperture priority mode.
  • Use a tripod.
  • Consider using an ND filter.
  • Focus on something not moving.
  • Stay dry!

One Response to “Becoming Poseidon”

  1. Annabelle says:

    I just landed on your website–a happy accident, Jason. I was seeking some background on negative space for a proposal to the Outreach Committee for our h.s. 50th reunion. Thinking out loud, I’m proposing we start the reunion NOW, not wait until the 3-day weekend on campus to do our catching up. Celebrate the negative space in our lives since 1963 by sharing photos on the reunion blog that evoke whatever it is that negative space evokes that got evoked in me this morning in a photo a classmate sent me from DC (by the way she worked years at NGS). What I’m calling the negative space in the photo are the 50 years of memories that began popping up as I looked at the photo. Memories that weren’t in the photo as such, but which got evoked by what was in the photo. Picture an on-line album of photos capturing the negative space of 77 lives since 1863–ones that are not the obvious ones that connect us back to high school but perhaps to our h.s. aspirations, visions, dreams, declarations, and ways of relating to life since–listening, learning, loving, and laughing. Whatever it is–that negative space–that makes a good movie, book, or photograph. . .that which tells us we’re not alone. The ‘blank’, ’empty’ and ‘nothingness’ that is holding a place for the ‘occurring’ of everything else. Exploring negative space in Mesa. Will continue to explore your inspired website.

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