Photographing Moving Water


tim-head People who know me know that I often preach about making sure your camera’s shutter speed is fast enough to ensure that you are stopping the action and not getting a blurry photo.  Of course, all general rules of thumb come with a catch and shutter speed is certainly no exception.  

One of the best times to play around with a slower shutter speed is when you have moving water in your viewfinder.  In the example to the left, taken on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I show you two examples of the effect that shutter speed has on moving water.

In the top photo, I set my camera to capture the image using the fastest possible shutter speed available.  You will notice that the camera returned a shutter speed of an amazingly fast 1/2000th of a second – enough to stop a  baseball in flight and count the stitches (or in this example, count errant water droplets).

In the bottom photo, the camera was set to return a very slow shutter speed, which it did – an incredibly slow and impossible to hand-hold 1/3 second.  To achieve this effect, the camera was set to recorded 9 stops less light than the top example (as determined by ISO and aperture settings) which in turn caused the shutter speed to dip so low. 

QUICK REFRESHER – a “stop” represents a doubling or halving of shutter, aperture, or ISO, or combination of the three.  9 stops = 1/3 <> 1/6 <> 1/15 <> 1/30 <> 1/60 <> 1/125 <> 1/250 <> 1/500 > 1/1000 <> 1/2000.  Clear as mud?

Because the shutter was open for 1/3 second (very long in photography terms), the water was able move much further while the shutter was open than when the camera was set to 1/2000 second.  As a result, the water is much softer and smoother than when the camera was fast enough to stop the droplets in place. 

Be sure to have some sort of stability system in place when you are trying to play with shutter speeds that slow, as the general rule of thumb for hand-holding is 1/x where x equals the focal length that you are shooting with (ie. 400mm lens needs a 1/400 second to be sure to have a sharp picture when hand-holding).  Obviously, some sort of stability system (tripod, monopod, trashcan, fence post) makes this requirement much lower.

Make sure you are familiar with your equipment to be able to set your camera to be able to take advantage of this technique.  By experimenting, you can find all sorts of creative uses to have fun with.  Happy shooting! 



tomorrowland waterfall

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