Go With the Flow - tyneholm
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Go With the Flow

Assignment L17

There is something about the rush of water that is both beautiful and exciting. 

Many of us could probably spend hours simply gazing at crashing waves or tumbling waterfalls. The challenge with stills photography is how to convey a sense of motion in a single frame. The trend in recent years has been to use extreme ND filters to blur water to a silky texture, creating a calm, tranquil look. Although the results can be beautiful, they do not necessarily convey a sense of movement in the water. 

The aim of this assignment is to photograph moving water in a way that captures a sense of motion. Few of us live very far from water, so whether it’s the sea, a waterfall, a cascading river, or a stream, there’s sure to be a suitable subject fairly close by. 

To convey the feeling of moving water, you really need to avoid the extreme shutter speeds-neither freezing water droplets in mid-air with a 1/1000 sec. exposure, nor blurring water so that it looks like mist. The best results are obtained with shutter speeds that retain some texture in the water-the exact speed will vary, depending on the speed of flow and amount of water. Experiment and select half a dozen shots that meet the brief. 

View the images


  • With waves, timing is important-you can either shoot them as they break and run up the shore or as they drag back out to sea. The latter can create very attractive trails. 
  • If you change shutter speeds, you will also need to change other values to ensure the correct exposure, such as using a stronger or weaker neutral density filter, or adjusting ISO, for instance. 
  • A polarizing filter can remove surface glare and make the water look darker-this can enhance an image and increase the contrast between dark and white water. 
  • Getting close to the water will make the effect of motion more obvious, but take care as water and cameras do not mix! 

Special Kit

  • Tripod 
  • Neutral density (ND) filters
  • Polarizing filter
  • Rain cover 
  • Chamois leather or microfiber cloth

Field Notes

  • It’s not possible to say exactly which shutter speed will give the best results, as so much depends on the amount of water and how quickly it’s moving. Generally speaking, though, moderate-sized waves look good with shutter speeds of 4 or 5 sec. and waterfalls a d fast-flowing rivers need a shorter exposure of around 2 sec. However, when on location, you’ll need to experiment with different shutter speeds and review your images on the camera’s LCD screen to see which gives the best effect.