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Camera Settings for Photographing Water in Motion

Cascading water is exciting to watch and photograph. Raging rivers also make beautiful photographs. Surging white water rapids, briny mist, and cascading spray are all the elements you need for a great picture.

Here are eight tips to consider when photographing water in motion:

  • Use a shutter speed of 1/15 of a second or slower. A slow shutter speed renders moving water as a silky white blur.

  • Use a low ISO setting. A low ISO setting gives you a relatively small aperture, which ensures a large depth of field.

  • Use a tripod. When you use a slow shutter speed, stabilize the camera to get a sharp picture.

  • Use a neutral density filter in bright light. In bright light, you won’t be able to use a slow shutter speed and get a properly exposed image. A neutral density filter cuts down on the amount of light reaching the sensor, which means you can get a properly exposed image using a slow shutter speed.

    If you use neutral density filters on a regular basis, consider purchasing a variable neutral density filter. This is actually two filters in one. You rotate the outer ring to dial in the strength of the filter.

  • Use a fast shutter speed when you want to freeze the motion of a raging river. You can also use a fast shutter speed when you want to show the details of a waterfall. You may have to increase the ISO setting when using a fast shutter speed to achieve a large depth of field, which requires a small aperture. Don’t increase the ISO too high or you’ll end up with a noisy image; use a tripod instead.

  • When you compose the image, position the horizon line in the lower third of the image. It’s also a good idea to place the waterfall to one side of the image.

  • Rotate the camera 90 degrees when photographing a waterfall. This is known as portrait format. Rotate the camera 90 degrees any time you photograph a subject that is taller than it is wide. The only exception to this rule would be a waterfall like Niagara Falls that is actually wider than it is tall.

  • Take a picture downstream from a waterfall. You’ll often find wonderful details when you venture a couple of hundred feet downriver from a waterfall, such as this image that was photographed a few hundred feet from Bridal Veil Falls.

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