Sue Barthelow's

Articles For Photographers




Bear River Beginnings
Bear River Beginnings

Fall Flow
Fall Flow


Smooth Flowing Water

by Sue Barthelow

Most photos depict a scene as it was when the shutter snapped - that blink of an eye image captured in vivid detail. However, many dynamic scenes improve when you add motion to your pallet. Flowing water is an excellent dynamic subject. Excite the artist in you as the water splashes by.

Water movement can be shot as everything from a static scene to a silky flow. Spring is the season that fills the local creeks and rivers with rushing volumes. However, forget the season there's never a better time than now to perfect your smooth water shots.

Make the water flow like silk by using a long shutter speed. Take a number of shots at different speeds and then pick the image you like the best. Every situation has different light and, thus, needs different camera settings.

To keep the shutter open for the time needed to smooth the flow, you need dim light. Too much light is guaranteed to over expose your image. Controlling the light is the key to smoothing the flow

How can you dim the light?

  • Shoot early or late in the day when the ambient light level is low.
  • Use a neutral density filter to block the light that gets through your lens. Also referred to as a stop-down filter, neutral density filters come in either a round form that screws onto the front of your lens or a rectangular form that slides into a frame that mounts on your lens. You can buy one of these filters to reduce the light by from 1 to 6 f-stops.
  • Use a polarizing filter. This filter will keep up to 2 f-stops of the light out of your lens. Perhaps even more important, it will improve your image by cutting out reflections coming from the water or wet rocks.
  • Find running water that is in deep shade.
  • Set your aperture to the highest setting allowed by your camera. This makes a tiny opening that will cut out much of the light.
  • Combine your dimming techniques. You may find that deep shade and a polarizing filter are all you need.

The water may be moving, but you want everything else to remain sharp. Don't forget to use your tripod. Long shutter speed shots cannot be hand held.


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