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.
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?
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|
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.
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: