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Vivid Light Photography, digital and film photography online
Go With the Flow 
Be Creative with Water 

by Mitch Moraski

I don't fish or whitewater kayak and I'm petrified to swim in the ocean, yet I'm still amazed how fascinated I have become with the sound of a stream, the crashing of waves against the shoreline, or the peacefulness of a small pool or pond. It must be my fascination with photography! It takes away my fears, sparks my adrenaline, and lets my creative side take over.

In this column I'll share with you images and insight on how to be creative while photographing that which covers 73% of our earth's surface - water!

Canon 28-135 IS, Exposure 2 sec. at f:22, Fuji Velvia

I've traveled from Maine to Oregon, and my desire is always to find the best stream or best shoreline imaginable. It's like a magnet! I just love to photograph water. The idea of taking something so powerful and creating an image of peacefulness and serenity is fascinating to me.

Canon 100-400 IS, Polarizer, and Fuji Velvia

Success will require the use of a sturdy and reliable tripod. The long exposures required for these shots will not allow you to handhold your camera. A tripod is a must! A cable release or remote should be included, but if you don't own one, use your camera's self-timer as a substitute. The timer works well for static scenes, such as flowing streams, but you'll be at a real disadvantage when trying to anticipate that perfect wave about to crash and explode onto the shore. That's when exposure must be immediate and a cable release is a must.

Be sure to include a variety of focal lengths when you pack your lenses. Personally, I carry all my lenses from 20mm to 400mm. I'll even throw in my 1.4 tele-extender. Often times I'll hike a trail, or walk great distances along a shoreline in search of a shot so I never want to come up short. Don't assume. Be prepared!

First, a polarizing filter is a must to help remove glare from the water as well as wet rocks. It will enhance and saturate the colors in your images. With full polarization, you will lose two stops of light. This effect is most helpful on streams and rivers as it lengthens your exposures.

Fall reflections along the Kangamangus

Canon 300mm, and Fuji Velvia 
w/ 81B warming filter

Next an 81B warming filter will help when you're shooting in open shade. It will remove the blue UV light rendered on your film. Personally I use a combination warm polarizer or Moose filter.

A neutral density filter is useful to slow shutter speeds even further when needed. I recommend a two stop ND (0.6). An exposure of 1/4 of a second becomes one full second with the addition of a two stop ND filter.

In a pinch you can lengthen exposure times even more by attaching your 1.4 tele-extender. This will reduce light by approximately one full stop. But remember, whenever you add more glass, you potentially sacrifice image quality.

My choice of film is Fuji Velvia. It is now available in both ISO 50 and 100 speeds (see a review of the new Velvia in the next issue). Rich in color, with reciprocity (color shift) held to a minimum on long exposures Velvia is the perfect film for this kind of shooting.

Canon 300mm, 1 second at f:22, Fuji Velvia

Water in Motion 
During our workshops here in Vermont I'm always asked, "but what aperture should I use?" My approach is very simple. If I'm photographing a stream, I'm looking to accentuate motion. I'll set my camera on aperture priority, or AV. I'll choose a small aperture, usually f:16 or f:22. Remember, I'm looking for a long exposure for effect!

Whether I'm working a wide angle, or using a long lens, this will usually give me adequate depth of field and allow for an exposure somewhere in the range 1/4 of a second or longer. From here I adjust accordingly. Personally I enjoy shooting water in motion in the range of one to four seconds. This effect seems to work for me, but you should experiment and find the effect you like best. Remember, when shooting streams, rivers, waterfalls and oceans you want to accentuate motion, not stop motion. A feeling of motion will give your images a dynamic feel. Be creative!

A Word of Caution 
Rocks are slippery when wet. I recommend you invest in a good pair of hiking boots and never wear boots that can fill with water should you slip and fall in. I always bring extra clothing, and yes I speak from experience.

My favorite light to work in is overcast soft light, cool early morning light, warm late day light, or immediately after a light rain.

Light rain brings out color in streambed rocks that's otherwise not present on dry days. Here's a helpful hint. Bring a small pail along. You can use it to wet the rocks with water if it's a dry day and you can throw water a good distance!

Light rain brings out color in streambed rocks. You can get the same effect on dry days by bringing a small pail and using it to wet the rocks. Canon 100-400 IS, Exposure 3 sec at f:22, Fuji Velvia

When working a stream, be careful how much water you include in the frame. I find that too much water can render textureless highlights, otherwise known as "hotspots". Large hotspots can be distracting and take away from the overall scene.

If spring rains have been heavy, I'll wait until a dry spell hits and water levels recede slightly and expose more of the river rock (this also depends on the geographical layout of the area you're shooting). With waterfalls we expect a high volume of water flow, but with autumn streams a mid-level volume is acceptable. Leaves that have left their limbs allow us to add color to images that are sometimes best regarded as good black and white subject matter.

Long exposures create a silky effect in waterfalls and in streams and a fog like layer over rocks and ocean boundaries in seascapes.

Long exposures create a silky effect in waterfalls and in streams.

Canon 100-400 IS, Exposure 1/2 sec. Fuji Provia

A long exposure creates a fog like layer over the surf in this image of the Oregon Coast. 

Canon 28-135 IS, Exposure 6 sec. at f:11, Fuji Provia

No matter where you live or choose to shoot you an almost always find waterscapes. Mastering them will add considerably to your photographic arsenal.

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