Guide On How To Photograph Moving Water

Everyone seems to be in awe looking at the photography of cotton candy seaside scenarios, or the milky white waterfalls falling down a rock face. These scenarios appear professional and might seem difficult to shoot. But, photographing moving water is not as challenging as it might seem at the first glance. All that one needs is the right technique implementation.

Gear required

To capture moving water shoots, the following equipment is required.

  •   A DSLR camera
  •   A tripod
  •   Neutral density filters, especially when photographing in bright daylight
  •   Shutter release cable

Selecting the right location

The foundation for taking successful moving water photography is selecting the right location. Usually, waterfalls are found in rugged terrain and their accessibility is challenging. Thus, choosing the right location is the key to taking professional-level photography of water in motion. Furthermore, it is suggested that one must approach the waterfall from below rather than from above. by considering the daylight, one will be able to identify the right time for shooting.

Choosing the correct format

The right format also plays a huge role in making a shoot look professional and mesmerizing. The same applies wit moving water photography. The vertical and horizontal formats also referred to as portrait and landscape work beautifully for seaside water shots. When one is considering photographing moving water as in the case of waterfalls, using vertical format or portrait is the best option. This is mainly because shooting a waterfall involves more height than breadth. There is no harm in trying out both the formats and finding out the outcomes.

Opting for the right shutter speed

To bring the milky white and smooth water shot, all that one needs to do is select the right shutter speed of the camera carefully. The variation between 1/30 and 1/15 of a second creates all the differences between an amazing shoot and just a good shot. The challenge that the majority of the photographers face while shooting moving water is that there is excessive light that bars one from using an apt slow shutter speed. A polarizing filter or ND gradient might be used to reduce the excessive light. It is necessary to experiment so that the right speed and lighting conditions for the shot are identified.

Experimenting with composition

Experimenting with composition refers to changing the angle, viewpoint, and distance from the moving water when compared with the conventional practice. While experimenting with the composition, two questions must have an answer.

  1. How much of the moving water does one want to include versus other aspects near the moving water, like trees, rocks, and other landscape features?
  2. How close can one get to the moving water due to the dangerous situation or water splashing?

The above-mentioned questions must have a definite answer while photographing moving water, for instance, waterfalls. When a photographer is happy with the composition, he/she must be ready to make some refinement by zooming in and out slightly. When there is a little variation, there is a greater chance of enhancing the images significantly.

Using a good quality tripod

Using a tripod is a necessity when one considers shooting or photographing moving water. Since extended exposure time is needed for photographing water in motion, using a good-quality tripod is the best option. This is mainly because using a small aperture renders the maximum depth of field. Hence, the sharpness can be maintained throughout the image. This must be combined with the use of remote or cabled shutter release so that there is an elimination in the shaking or vibration of the camera.

Using blur to advantage

When an image turns out blurry, it can be frustrating for a photographer. But while photographing moving water, blurs can be used as an advantage. It is the blur that creates the rushing, misty, and flowing movement of water in an image. If the shutter speed is rapid, the water motion in the photograph freezes making it appear reflective, and sharp and less water flowing than reality. When the photographer ensures that there is slow shutter speed, the moving water looks soft, full, and elegant, capturing the real essence of the scene. The effect of blur can do wonders from waves of the ocean, babbling brook, to waterfalls.

Putting manual mode on the camera

“M” is the manual mode option on the majority of the DSLR camera. It is suggested to set the ISO to 100 and the aperture to f/16 or f/22. When the aperture is set more at “stopped down”, it is said that the scene will be more in focus. This is the case mostly with landscape scenario shots. Furthermore, this also refers to the fact the camera’s lens is allowing in minimal light so that one can use longer shutter speeds. This allows one to seek the advantages of blurred water shots.

Fine-tuning with test shots

Often photographers click images where water blurs are more for the effect that he/she is trying to acquire. The blurs might create a mistier effect that is required. Moreover, there are parts of some shots that are affected by the shutter speed of the camera that needs to be addressed; for instance, over-exposed sunny patches.

One needs to try out different adjustments starting from shutter speed, focusing point, f-stop, neutral density filters, and other settings of the camera to get the effect that one is expecting. It is important to understand that creating the right mood for moving water is not science. Every scene demands different settings depending on the light, water speed, and other factors involved. Thus, it is important to try out different settings and test shots and thereby fine-tuning the exact configuration for the expected outcomes.


When one is photographing moving water, continuous practicing is one aspect that should be given importance. When a person spends time with his/her camera and experiments, the faster one gets to learn to choose the perfect settings for the shots. One must try shooting at different times of the day and different types of water bodies, like fountains, rivers, streams, beaches, waterfalls, etc. This will help to become a better photographer understanding the right settings and light conditions for photographing moving water bodies.

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