The One Big Thing About Water Photography

If you’ve been an outdoor photographer for very long you might have noticed by now that you spend a lot of time near the water. There’s no doubt that water features add a lot to any landscape nature scene. Ponds are a tremendous feature to shoot with mountains, waterfalls are always a beautiful cascading subject, and lakes can add an extra interest level to any composition.

As I was recently out shooting around the water, I realized that there is one big thing about water photography that every photographer should know.

The funny thing is that it has nothing to do with water itself, but it has everything to do with what it does to the water.

So, what is that one big thing?

Wind.

Let me put you in my boots for a minute. You just finished a moderate hike up to Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. You found a great composition and framed everything perfectly. The sun starts to rise and you know this is going to be an amazing shot. But something happens. The lake that was still and reflecting the morning alpenglow on the mountains in the background is now choppy because of an unexpected wind.

What do you do?

Well, one way around that would be to put on a neutral density filter and lengthen your exposure to exclude moving water and bring back a reflection.

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Let’s look at another scenario. You’re now standing in my hip waders in the middle of the shallows at the base of a waterfall. It rained last night so the water is flowing nicely. There’s one problem though. The wind from the water falling through the air is blowing the foliage in the foreground so much that it’s not clear in your photograph.

What do you do?

You could wait for the wind to die down (although that’s not likely), or you could take two separate shots and blend them together using post-processing. One shot with a fast exposure for the foreground, and a longer shot for smooth, milky waterfall cascades.

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Wind from waterfalls can also cause one issue that I used to hate, and that’s spraying mist on your lens. I used to get water droplets on my lens all the time. I’d have to take my camera off the tripod, wipe the lens down, set everything back up, and there would be more mist on my lens. Who was I kidding?! Of course it would get on the lens again! This happens a lot at powerful waterfalls when you’re shooting a low composition.

What do you do?

Well, I fought the misty wind by buying a rocket air blaster and consistently blowing my own source of wind on my lens during the exposure so that my lens stayed mist free.

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Wind is one common problem with many simple solutions.

Now, you might be saying, “OK, now we know!” But, I want to challenge you to be aware of the surroundings more, especially when you’re photographing water. Wind can easily mess up a high quality water photograph if you don’t know how to counter its effects.

Wind isn’t the only thing you have to overcome when you’re including water features into your photography, though. I recently taught a class on water photography where we covered several different aspects, including:

  • Creating your own in-field workflow
  • Using the best shutter speed
  • Photographing large and small waterfalls
  • Photographing lakes and ponds
  • Using different filters for still and moving water
  • Showing detail in your water photography

This beginner-level class was originally recorded live and is now available for download in the Outdoor Photography Guide Shop. You can take a look and watch a preview of the class here.

About the author: When David Johnston isn’t leading photography workshops and tutorials or hosting his popular photography podcast, Photography Roundtable, he can be found traveling the world taking photos to awe and inspire his viewers. David has a passion for sharing his knowledge of photography and has many educational offerings designed to help photographers improve their work. Visit his website at www.photographyroundtable.com.

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4 Responses to “The One Big Thing About Water Photography”
  1. Tony (Michael)

    Thanks, David! I really like the thought of using a neutral density filter to exclude moving water. The other trick I will have to try is the rocket air blaster trick when I might be trying to take photos while there is a slight drizzle. Have you tried that one, and does it work?? Respectfully @Tony

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