Whether liquid, frozen, churning, calm, vaporized or other, water in all forms offers a myriad of photo potential
Over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water. So why don’t more water photos exist compared to the magnitude of “topographic” pics of mountains, hills, plains, valleys, craters, canyons and caves? Some reasons are obvious and I know my question is rhetorical. But given water’s abundance, allow this week’s tip to motivate you to focus on the wet side and flood memory cards with a monsoon of pixels. The fact that water is found in a myriad of forms helps precipitate options. It allows you to dip into a reservoir of research and form avalanches of new ideas to become a liquid part of your repertoire. Follow me down or upstream while I meander through a number of techniques to moisten your thoughts, and use these ideas to take your water photography to new depths.
I start this week’s ideas by pointing out numerous options and variables that connect to water. Each offers a plethora of photographic potential. That potential can be raised to a whole new level when you add in factors such as seasons of the year, evaporation and/or flooding, still water, rapids, etc. Toss in concepts such as reflections, strength, power and calm and it becomes obvious that water photography will never dry up.
Water can possess many moods. Water can reflect emotions when you sit by a gentle stream and contemplate life. Taken literally, it can also reveal beauty when a still puddle reflects a primary subject at sunrise or sunset. Torrents of water can cause extreme stress and destruction as homes are threatened and washed away in floods but can also have people gaze in wonder as torrents of water wash over Niagara Falls.
The Shutter Is Key
Use your camera’s technology to create and evoke an effect and/or emotion. The easiest way to impart this is to take control of the shutter speed when the image is made. Slower speeds create the “cotton candy” effect. When speeds of 1 second or longer are used, water takes on more of a milky/silky look. Experiment using everything from 1 second to 30 seconds and longer. Each will reveal variations in characteristics. Conversely, use speeds of 2,000th or faster to freeze single drops. Again, experiment with different speeds doubling or halving the number with each new capture. Images using fast shutter speeds are synonymous with power and fortitude, while those taken with slow ones depict calm, tranquility and peacefulness. With fast speeds, lay on the motor drive to capture given drops in various locations of the composition.
Don’t overlook the abstract when water turns to ice. Walk the banks of shallow lakes, ponds and other still bodies where ice may form. It often freezes with swirls, areas of different milky densities, abstract lines and more. Break out the macro lens and get in close. Look for sections of interest as you zoom in or out. The difference between an inch or two can often make or break a macro composition.
One of my favorite ways to depict a state of water occurs on chilly fall and winter days at sunrise. Backlit water in its gaseous state, as it evaporates off a meandering river, lake or other small body at sunrise, ranks in my top three conditions in which I love to make bucolic images. Ground fog provides the same ideal conditions. The proper temperature, humidity level and a clear eastern horizon all must align for it to occur. It also happens in the spring after a few days of warmth and a chill returns overnight.
The morning after a good rainfall when the air is crisp and clear is a great time to head into the field. Any pothole, dip in the earth or depression that holds gathering water can be used as a reflective surface if the air is still. Look for landforms, animals, vegetation and more to use as a subject. Photograph the scene with the reflection, photograph the scene without the reflection and photograph just the reflection. Try verticals and horizontals to “Exhaust All Possibilities,” one of my top-five favorite sayings.
A Night On The Town
City lights add intrigue to reflected colors in puddles and on pavement after a good rain. Utilize the reflective characteristics of full puddles, potholes, shiny pavement, sidewalks and more. The shine on roads can create mirror images or “jiggly” abstracts. Incorporate car taillights or headlights into the composition.
Combine any number of the above techniques and the number of potential images grows exponentially. One more thought for the weary: Even on a dreary day when it’s cold and you just don’t feel like bundling up, break out a clear baking pan, fill it with water, drop in some food coloring and give the water a gentle swirl—more subjects, more photos, more ideas!
So head into the field and use all the above as your divining rod to stimulate your individuality. Jot down any new thoughts before they evaporate. Grab all your gear and meander into the field to bring home an ocean of new and amazing creations. Did I whet your appetite yet?
Feel free to explore more of my photography at my website: www.russburdenphotography.com or visit my SmugMug page: russburden.smugmug.com.
Originally Published April 12, 2023