How to Achieve Those Soft and Silky EffectsWater in motion is ever-changing and ever-magical. That's especially true when it comes to slowing down the shutter speed and capturing a beautiful sense of soft movement as you see in boulder waterfalls and slides.
This fluid-motion technique can be applied to all types of waterfalls, streams, ocean surf, fountains, and even lawn sprinklers. How slow is "slow"? To blur flowing or falling water, start with a shutter speed of around 1/8th second, and then work your way down from there - into the 1/4- to 1/2-second range. The ultimate in silky smoothness, though, generally doesn't start to set in until about a full second or so. Longer exposure times increase the slow-motion effect.
But this "Going with the Flow" technique comes with a "rule": Photographing running water is not a precise science - so it always pays to experiment.
Experimenting With Fundamentals in Photographing Boulder Waterfalls and SlidesWater's speed
Slower-flowing water requires longer exposures to obtain the fluid-movement look, while fast or cascading water can be blurred with not-quite-so-slow shutter speeds.
Distance between camera and water: The more you magnify your subject in motion (i.e., by physically moving in closer or by zooming in tighter), the easier it is to blur it. More distant scenes require much slower speeds to convey that soft-movement look.
In any case, long exposures don't just happen. Most, or all, of the following must be in place in order to slow down your shutter speed:
Your lens's SMALLEST opening (HIGHEST f/stop number) will automatically result in the slowest possible shutter speed for the given ISO and lighting conditions. Side benefit: a wider depth of field (what's in sharp focus from front to back in an image). How to do it: In Aperture Priority, choose a high f/stop number. The camera's auto-metering system will then compensate for the small aperture by lengthening the exposure time.
Lastly ... More photos:
About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Kerry Drager
Be sure to check out Kerry's Pro BetterPholio website - www.kerrydrager.com.
Also, he is the author of Scenic Photography 101, the photographer of the photo-essay books The Golden Dream: California from Gold Rush to Statehood and California Desert , a contributor to the books BetterPhoto Basics and Daybreak 2000, and a co-photographer of Portrait of California. In addition, Kerry was profiled in the April 1994 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine and in Vik Orenstein's 2010 book The Photographer's Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business, and his website was showcased in the January 2003 issue of Shutterbug magazine. Plus, his work has appeared in magazines, Hallmark cards and Sierra Club calendars, and in advertising campaigns for American Express and Sinar Bron Imaging.
Kerry lives with his wife, Mary, on California's Central Coast, with their three Newfoundland dogs, four cats, and a mixed terrier.