Are you looking for new photography ideas to experiment with? Water photography is an excellent genre to do exactly that!
Water photography offers endless creative possibilities. From simple indoor shots and abstract photos to outdoor long exposures, and landscape photos of waterfalls or seascape compositions, photographing water is a fun activity and it’s also easy once you know how to do it.
In this article I’ll show you the main camera settings and ideas to take your water photography to a new level.
Dive into this exciting photography genre and learn how you too can become a great photographer of water!
Getting Started With Water Photography
First of all, to start taking photos of water you have to choose your subject and plan a little. Once you’ve established what type of photo you are going to produce you’ll have to choose the right camera settings.
Choose Your Favorite Subject
Water exists in various forms and in a number of places. Therefore, it becomes crucial that you figure out your favorite type of water photography. If you are just starting off, experiment with various types until you find one that suits your photography style and interests.
A few subject ideas for water photography are:
- Waterbodies such as seas and oceans
- Running tap water
What’s great about water photography is that you can easily combine your subjects with other genres. For instance, you can use animals, props, and even models for your water photography. You can even take some self-portraits next to some funny or interesting looking water.
Find the Right Location for Your Water Photography
Once you have zeroed in on your favorite subject, it is time to look for an appropriate location that you can shoot some stellar photos from.
- First up, ensure that the location you are shooting from is safe, for you as well as your equipment.
- Next up, try to choose a location that has plenty of space. The more room you have, the more creative you can be with your shots. Think of tourists, drones, and traffic that can get in your way.
- The weather is another aspect to be on the lookout for. If you want to capture images of smooth water, you will need to shoot on days that are calm, with nearly no wind. If you want to capture some shots of a waterfall on a particularly windy day, be careful that the water doesn’t damage your equipment.
- As with all other genres of photography, lighting plays a crucial role in getting the best out of your efforts. Try to shoot during the blue hour or the golden hour for the best results.
- Choose a location that has a dramatic or vibrant backdrop, so that the water stands out from the background and looks more impressive.
Camera Settings for Water Photography
When starting off with water photography and photography in general, the sheer number of settings can feel overwhelming. Once you have a general idea of what these settings are, and how they impact a photo, you can experiment and find the ones that deliver the best results.
Long Exposure Water Photography
One of the most common techniques applied to moving water is a long exposure. You can use it with any type of moving water to get smooth blurred effects and different types of results. For example, if you are shooting moving water, such as in the ocean, a long exposure will create a fog-like effect.
Shoot in aperture priority (A or Av) and start from a small aperture such as f/11. Make sure you use a tripod and that the camera chooses a slow enough shutter speed to give you a long exposure. You can play around with your exposure settings to see what works best for the scene that you are trying to capture.
Related: How to Take Long Exposure Photos
Freezing Motion in Water Photography
On the other hand, you may want to catch water in motion, such as a wave, or perhaps even running water from a tap and freeze motion with a fast shutter speed. If you are shooting in Aperture Priority mode, set the aperture to f/5.6 or wider to make sure the camera sets a fast shutter speed and a very short exposure. Adjust accordingly to have a balanced exposure.
Aperture in Water Photography
As with any other type of photography, a wide aperture leads to a shallow depth of field and results in the background being blurred. An aperture of f/2.8 or f/4 will give you a blurred background. Make sure the exposure is correct and the shutter speed matches the effect you want to obtain as explained above.
In certain cases, the only way to capture photos in low light is to have a higher ISO. For instance, if you want to have a fast shutter speed and freeze motion in a photo of running water, you might not have sufficient light due to the short exposure time. A higher ISO setting will help you out in this regard. High ISO values can add digital noise to your photo. As long as you haven’t used the highest ISO setting, you can easily remove it while post-processing.
Water Photography Tips
Now that you know what you want to capture and the right camera settings you can experimenting with different ideas, techniques and compositions.
1. Using Oil
Combining water with oil can help you create some nice textures that make for some great abstract shots! Add both water and oil to a transparent container.
Place some background image below the glass container to add a bit of color to your photo. Then use a macro lens to focus on a certain region where there is oil. Try to capture the circular shape of oil globules in the water. Attach a spotlight or strobe to your camera to light your shot. The results will be quite abstract and colorful.
2. Shooting Flowing Water
For flowing water, such as on the beach, you can start off with a shutter speed of 0.5 seconds. If you are going to shoot receding water, anywhere between 0.5 to 1 second works best. For incoming waves, you must lower the shutter speed even more, along the lines of 1/8 of a second. Such a fast shutter speed can help you catch some mini waterfalls as the water crashes into rocks and cliffs.
However, you must be careful with the amount of light. Too much light means you may have to lower your shutter speed to something like 1.50 of a second rather than 1/2 of a second. Using polarizing filters or ND filters is the solution in such a scenario, to darken the shot and give better results.
If the water is fairly calm, like in lakes, your photo will result in a mirror-like appearance of the water. Taking advantage of reflections is one of the most fun ways to take water photos. Following rain, you can find a number of puddles that serve as great reflection pools.
If you visit a lake or a pond on calm days, you can capture some brilliant reflections. The closer you get to water bodies, the better the quality of the reflection. You need to get low to the surface of the water for physics to work in your favor and allow reflections to be seen. You can also use a polarizing filter to make the reflection stronger and easier to capture.
4. Shooting Crashing Waves
The best way to capture crashing waves is to use a telephoto lens and shoot from afar. Position yourself at a location where you are completely safe. Ensure that the sand and ground around you is dry. Try to set your camera up at the lowest vantage point. This way you can make the waves look more powerful and bigger.
Choose a fast shutter sped such as 1/250 of a second. If you are shooting waves that take up more than 20% of your shot, you can try even faster speeds, such as 1/500. If your camera can go higher, you are bound to get better and clearer shots. Just be sure to raise your ISO to accommodate such fast shutter speeds.
5. Ice and Frozen Food
Another interesting experiment you can play with is frozen food. You can take advantage of ice to create some creative photos of everyday objects, I usually use chopped fruit. All you need is some good lighting, and your photo will come to life!
First up, freeze some fruit to create a composition you want to photograph. You can place your food composition in a glass next to a window to have a soft natural light or use artificial light if needed.
6. Settings for Waterfalls
Typically people tend to use long exposures for waterfalls. On the other hand, you can also use fast sots such as 1/100 shutter speeds to capture the texture of the waterfall, and the splashes made as it comes to the ground. You can even go up to 1/4 to 1/8 of a second to get some interesting results. Ideally, you would want to capture photos with different shutter speeds and then compare them on a large screen to see which is the most appealing.
Another interesting trick for high waterfalls that move about a little is to shoot multiple frames at the exact same exposure. You can then combine them while post-processing to create the impression that there is more water than in reality.
7. Shooting Splashes Indoors
Photographing splashes is quite trendy and popular. You can capture a single drop of water to create a splash, or even drop an entire fruit to get a more exaggerated effect.
The simplest way to start off with splash photography is to set to aperture to something such as f/8 or as high as f/16. A shutter speed as much as 1/800 of a second is ideal. Adjust your ISO accordingly. You can then experiment a bit based on the focal range you are working with and you’ll be ready to go! Have someone drop an item or water and you can take some great photos.
The possibilities for water photography are nearly endless. Now that you have a better understanding of how and where you can take some beautiful photos, it’s your turn to go outside and experiment. Just keep these tips and techniques in mind, and you’ll soon find yourself becoming well-versed with this genre!
Stefano Caioni is a photographer from Sydney, Australia. Founder and editor of Pixinfocus, his passion for photography helps him explore new places and live new adventures. Thanks to photography he reconnected with the outdoors and was able to travel the world and take photos of some of the most beautiful places on Earth.