Sunday, August 9, 2009

Be still my heart--the water is moving

How do I love moving water? Let me count the ways. I love how it flows, curls, ripples, and whirls. I love how it jumps and leaps and twists and turns. I love how it sucks in the blue of the sky and shouts the red of stream side autumn maples. I love how it takes my hand in its current and lifts it to the surface. How it shimmers and shines in the sun and multiplies the world with reflections of boat hulls, ducks, water lilies, and pond side barns. How it braids and threads its way around rocks and logs. I love its stillness in lakes that instills calm into the depths of the soul and how a single dropped pebble can radiate concentrically in ever-growing circles that eventually expand to distant shores.

I especially love how it lets me photograph all this because its beauty is vast and open to interpretation.

Like showing any movement in a still photograph, moving water challenges my photographic skills. Waterfalls tend to be the primary target of cameras seeking moving water. But streams coursing over rocky bottoms may offer the most variety.

As with most moving subjects, transforming moving water into successful photographs tends to rely on a slow shutter speed. How slow? Well, that is the question. How fast is the water moving? How close are you to it? And what are you trying to show?

Waterfalls turn warm and cottony comfy when you use shutter speeds of 1/8 second or slower. Rock-strewn streams can also take on the fluffy look with slow shutter speeds. Extra slow shutter speeds, those of one second and slower may reduce the definition and sense of sharpness of internals spaces in the water as the extra time lets stray droplets diffuse and lessen local contrast. Not necessarily a bad thing, but those well defined and dark areas reinforce the surrounding softness of the blurred water.

What should you do? Try a variety of shutter speeds from 1/60 second to three or four seconds. Use a neutral density filter (or a polarizing filter) to block light so you can use a slow shutter speed. And don't forget your tripod as you want to retain the sharpness of the immobile areas within the picture.

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