How to blur water for creative effect
Ever wanted to add emotion and mood to your water photography? I’ve always enjoyed photographing water, finding it evocative and thought-provoking. Here are some Water Photography Tips to help you take better water photos. Here I concentrate on how to blur water for dramatic effect. Sometimes pin sharp water can look great, like in the picture of the fountain below at Framingham Winery. A fast shutter speed in sunny weather will freeze water in mid-flow and give the photo a frozen in time feel.
However, sometimes it can leave the subject lifeless, especially in the case of rivers and waterfalls. Blurring the water can give the photo more drama, depth and movement.
Blur water for creative effect
Of course, I’ve accidentally blurred plenty of photos in my time, my muppetry knows no bounds! However, there is a technique to blur water for creative effect. The technique is, essentially, to slow the shutter speed of the camera. To explain, the shutter opens, water flows past the camera, the shutter closes, and the resulting picture gives the impression of movement. On DSLR cameras this is easily done. Also on some mobile phones. My Samsung mobile phone has a Pro mode in the settings and the shutter speed can be lowered there.
For instance, the picture on the left of is a waterfall taken at 1/80th of a second with an aperture of F5 and an iso speed of 100. Correspondingly, the photo on the right is taken at 1 second with an aperture of F32 and an iso speed of 100.
Terms like ‘depth of field’, F numbers and shutter speed might seem a little confusing! How much light is let into the camera is determined by the F-number. Lower numbers like F5, let in more light than F32. Higher numbers also provide more depth of field, how much of the picture is in focus. But there is an easy way!
Turn your camera dial to shutter priority. This is usually the letter S or TV for some Canon cameras. Then lower the shutter speed. To blur water for creative effect, that is all there is to it! It is worth taking a lot of photos at varying shutter speeds, this way you can look through them all and find one that gives you the best look you like.
Have a rest
When lowering the shutter speed below 1/60 rest the camera on something suitable, like a rock, fence post or use a tripod. Propping up a phone on that convenient rock or resting your selfie stick against something also achieves the same effect. There are many tripods out there some cheap and others not. For this photo, I used a baby flexible tripod here. The legs of the tripod are bendable and can grip to posts and branches among other things. The versatility of the tripod can be seen in the picture below. Together with the fact that it’s cheap, it is also remarkably sturdy. It’s light too so doesn’t weigh down my camera bag.
Play about with the shutter speed, sometimes 6 seconds can produce a better result and sometimes 1/20th of a second can and vice versa. As mentioned above, take as many photos as you need to.
Long exposure tip
When taking long exposures to capture water it is also advisable to cover the eyepiece to stop light getting into the camera. Obviously, do this once you have composed the shot as it’s hard to compose a shot when you can’t see through the lens! With DSLRs, they usually come supplied with a special plastic light blocker that fits over the eyepiece. In fact, I just have a piece of black electrical tape stuck to the bottom of the camera. I find this far more flexible and user-friendly to just pull it off the bottom of the camera and stick over the eyepiece when needed.
Eliminate Camera Shake
Also, try and eliminate all camera shake. When you press the button to take the photo, you can accidentally shake the camera. Resulting in everything being blurred, not just the water. To counter this, try a remote control. If you don’t have one, see if your camera has a shutter delay setting. Equally, you can always use the self-timer feature on the camera. If it’s windy and your tripod is moving a bit, you can hang your camera bag or rucksack on the bottom of the tripod to give it added stability. But with the smaller tripods, this won’t be as much of a problem as they are closer to the ground and don’t catch the wind as much.
Sometimes it can be difficult to get a slow enough shutter speed, due to a bright subject, to blur the water. This is where filters come into play. A polarising filter will reduce the amount of light getting into the camera. As well as lowering the shutter speed, a polarising filter will reduce reflection on the water and make the colours better. To do this rotate the filter as you look through the lens and you will see the reflections disappear and the colours get deeper. Rotate until you get a picture that suits. I use a Hoya Pro1 polarising filter. Remember to get one with the same size thread as your camera. If you don’t have a filter to hand, set your iso to 100 or as low as it can go. Click here for my article on using a polarising filter.
The end result. 1 sec at F32 blurs the water for an almost smoky, dreamy view of the waterfall. The blurring gives the water a sense of movement.
The same principles have been used to take the above photo. The water has again taken on the smoky dreamy effect with a 2.5-second shutter speed. Once you have the formula remembered it can be applied to any water photo, not just waterfalls. Of course, a tripod is essential again. For this beach in Ibiza photo, I used my Ranger Travel Tripod.
Water Photography Tips – Conclusions
- Use a tripod or a convenient rock
- Set to shutter priority
- Use a low shutter speed
- Cover the DSLRs eyepiece
- Take loads of photos
- Vary the shutter speed
For all my tips and tricks see my Photography Tutorials page.
To see all my gear, check out What’s In My Camera Bag.
Composition – Learn the rules of composition, then break them.
Shutter Speed – Slow Shutter Speed Tips and how to avoid Camera Shake.
Use a Polarising Filter – Take away reflections and boost colours.
Fooling your camera’s internal light meter is easy! – Bracket your shots.
Light changes dramatically with the time of day! Know what’s best for your shot.
Know Your Camera – Know where all the buttons are for when the perfect shot comes.
The Depth of Field – What’s in focus in your picture and what’s not.
Backup and Memory Cards – and spread your trip out over them.
Plan your Photographs – Spend time on Google street view getting to know the area.
Take your time – For less time editing – Walk around the subject and try from different angles.
Click here for my Photography page with all the links on.
This is a list of things I carry in my camera bag that might be useful for you.
Hopefully, my Water Photography Tips will help you take better water photos. Do you have any great tips to share? Feel free to post them. If you liked my Water Photography Tips you can follow me on the links below or share them with your friends.
Waterfall photos were taken on a Nikon 7200 DSLR
Blur water for creative effect