Monday, 17 October 2011

Photographing Water

Whether you’re a seasoned photographer or a novice venturing into the world of photography, taking your time to research the best viewpoint to photograph something is one of the first and most important steps.

If it’s a body of water you want to capture, Ontario has the benefit of being close to the largest body of fresh water in the world, one-fifth of the world's fresh surface water and has close to 10,000 miles of shoreline and rivers. Needless to say, there are lots of locations to choose from.

My personal preference is to take my waterscape images during early morning or later evening. This will reduce the amount of glare and reflections on the waters surface and allow you to play with shutter speeds and create emotion… something that I promise will separates your image from the novice photographer.

My method is to scope out a location ahead of time, identify sun and moon locations using “photographers ephemeris” and then show up two hours before a sun rise or sunset. My personal preference is to show up in the morning, shoot the blue hour before the sun comes up. You will bear the solar winds and boat traffic before they kick up the waves.

When I am choosing a viewpoint for photographing water, I first look for a focal point of interest. This can be a lighthouse, rock formation, an interesting structure or high tide. Any interesting landmark or formations of nature are great to use as focal points. I sometimes follow the rule of thirds and place the focal point to either the left or right side of the image. But then again, sometimes the balance of the image demands that a focal point is in the foreground, smack center in the lower half of the image.

Simple adjustments to your position can also change the viewpoint and increase the beauty of the image. Experiment with moving the camera a few inches up by standing on a rock or chair. Try kneeling down for another viewpoint. You can also alter your position by taking steps to the side of steps forward or backwards.

Don’t accept that the image that you see before you is the image you should be taking. Most of us are shooting digital, take numerous shots from different angles and watch how the subtle change can have a huge impact of the composition.

Tips for photographing water
Water seems like such a simple thing to photograph. We see images everywhere that depict incredible photographic scenes. It has many faces; it can be as large as an ocean, a river or a waterfall to as small as a droplet on a flower petal. Frozen or free flowing, it can be both dramatic and interesting.

The following are some tips and thoughts to get you thinking of capturing water. Not only out in nature, but in your kitchen or bathroom too.

Long Exposure waterscapes
This generally is taken early in the morning or later in the day. The time of day therefore demands a long shutter speed. The result will be flattened water of glass that will give off some reflections.

I suggest that you use a tripod, shutter release cable and set your camera on aperture priority and let the shutter speed be determined by the camera. The smaller the iris opening (larger the f-stop number) the longer the shutter speed will be.

Stopping the motion of water
Some examples are when your kids are splashing in the water or a wave is hitting the rocks. My suggestion here is to use fairly fast shutter speed and/or flash in order to freeze the action. Use a tripod and a multi/continuous shot mode is advised as you will want to capture a series of shots of the water moving before selecting your favorite one when you see them on a larger screen at home.

Water drops
Water drops can be extremely hard to photograph. The best way to capture droplets is to put your camera on a tripod and attach a shutter release cable or use a remote control to eliminate camera shake. I would set my camera to burst mode so you can take a series of images at once. Use a macro lens, a cable release and have a light source handy to light the drop as it rests or rolls.

Another way to photograph a droplet of water is to do it indoors. You capture the water dropping in a pool of water. What you do is fill a bowl with water then let a droplet fall into the water. At the same time, let the shutter start so it takes a series of images and one should capture the moment the droplet hits the surface. With this technique, practice makes perfect! I make it sound simple here, but its rather difficult. Some people go as far as using a set up with multiple lights, colored dye and a contraption to fix the water collision point. Google the process and get some ideas.

Look out for interesting details when you are shooting reflections. There’s no point shooting something dull and uninteresting. I like to capture people or animals in reflections on the other side of the body of water.

I would not use a flash as this will leave a ‘hot spot’ in the water, I would rater see you use a polarizer filter as this reduces glare from the sun that may be present in the water. Choose a reasonable shutter speed so there is no blurring, especially if the water is moving a little.

You will want to wait for fairly calm conditions when shooting reflections in the water.

In order to capture silky smooth water flows use a long shutter speed. You will need to experiment to find the perfect timing but starting from two seconds is a good point. You must place your camera on a tripod and never use flash. You can also choose a small depth of field of f/16 to f/22 so that the image looks sharp.

Moving water on bright days?
On a bright day, you may find choosing a long shutter speed problematic. So what you need to do is to use a neutral density filter. This is attached on the end of your lens and blocks out the amount of light entering it, meaning you can choose a longer shutter speed. You can also use a polarizer at the same time. Another option is to choose a low ISO of 100 or even 50 if your camera allows it. The lower the ISO the more light the camera needs to capture an image so this may force the camera to give you a slower shutter speed and as a bonus, you will have a very fine grained image.

Pull up Google, look at some images, and get inspired. Then, get out and enjoy what water can offer… and keep the camera dry. :-)