How to Photograph Running Water

Photograph of waterfall in jungle

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Running water is a powerful theme in many landscape photographers' portfolios. Some of the most amazing photographs are those ethereal shots that make waterfalls look like a soft, running mist while also capturing the power and force of the water.

As stunning as these images are, creating one is not as simple as a quick snapshot with your DSLR camera. There are a few easy tips and tricks that you can use to create beautiful shots of running water.

Use a Tripod

Put your camera on a tripod, a pod, or find a rock or flat wall on which to balance your camera. You will need to use a long shutter speed to produce the silky effect seen in many running water photographs. Hand-holding a camera at these longer exposures will create a blurry image.

Use a Slow Shutter Speed

Ideally, you should meter your shutter speed using a light meter. If you do not own a light meter, start by giving your camera an exposure of at least 1/2 second and adjust from there. A slow shutter speed will blur the water and give it that heavenly feel.

Use a Small Aperture

Stop down to an aperture of at least f/22. This will allow for a large depth of field to keep everything in the image in focus. It will also require the use of a longer shutter speed and these two factors work together to create the best waterfall pictures.

Use a Neutral Density Filter

Neutral density (or ND) filters are used to reduce the exposure of an image. They can be very useful in achieving those slow shutter speeds while allowing for a large depth of field.

Use a Low ISO

The lower the ISO, the less noise the image will have and it is always a good idea to use the lowest ISO possible to create the highest quality images. The low ISO will also slow down the shutter speed.

Use an ISO of 100 for the best waterfall shots. After all, you are taking the time to make a spectacular shot, so you might as well do your best to ensure it looks great on every level.

Use Low Light

By slowing down the shutter speed, you are increasing the amount of light that gets into your camera and you run the risk of overexposure. A lower amount of natural light will help prevent this issue. By shooting at sunrise or sunset when the color temperature of light is more forgiving. If this is not possible, chose an overcast day rather than a bright, sunny day.

Summing It All Up

By now you should have noticed that the point of every step in photographing running water involves slowing down the shutter speed. Unlike in many situations where we are concerned about stopping action and getting a quick shot, this type of photography is all about patience.

Slow down and take your time. Calculate every step that you take and pay close attention to composition and perspective. Practice often and before you know it, you will have that dreamy waterfall image you have been dreaming about.

Now you just need to get out there, experiment and have fun!

How to Stop Running Water

If you want a photograph that shows water in its natural state, simply switch to a faster shutter speed, such as 1/60th of a second or 1/125th. This will show water as the human eye perceives it and stop any movement.