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How to get dreamy water look on your waterfall photo

| March 19, 2010 | 1 Comment
One of the most fascinating photography effects you can achieve is a shot of a waterfall or stream, where the water has smooth and silky look, while the surrounding environment looks perfectly normal. Learn the photography technique in this week´s photo school.

Waterfall photoThe trick on how to achieve the dreamy water look is simple: long exposure. The basic goal here is to have your shutter open long enough that it captures movement in the water, while the rest of the environment is perfectly still. This is best achieved using shutter priority mode (Tv on Pentax, or S on Nikon), since it gives you direct control over your digital camera shutter speed.

Since our goal is to try and keep shutter open for as long as possible, camera shake will be an issue, rendering hand holding the camera virtually impossible. Make no mistake, you will need a tripod, or some other camera support. You can always look for a nearby rock or some piece of cloth to rest your camera on, while it takes the photo. Since I live on the north and more often than not carry my woolen cap with me, it proved more than adequate for the job.

To ensure the best quality of your shot do the following:

  • set the ISO sensitivity of your digital camera to minimum,
  • set the shooting mode to shutter priority (S or Tv on the mode dial).
  • set the shutter speed to approx 5 seconds
  • put the camera in self-timer mode, or remote release if you have it
  • compose the shot, and press the shutter button

Depending on the amount of the light available, you should be able to make a decent exposure with these settings. However the problem with long exposure does not come with too little light. Actually it is quite the opposite. Since the shutter has to stay open long enough to achieve dreamy water look (5-10 sec), there is a real risk that you will end up with overexposed image.

Generally keeping your ISO sensitivity to it’s minimum, and setting aperture to its minimum should keep exposure in check, however on a bright day you might need to resort to using filters that will reduce the amount of light reaching your digital camera’s sensor. These filters are called neutral density or ND filters. The ND filter will reduce the amount of light reaching your sensor by half (1 stop ND filter), effectively doubling the exposure time. Typical ND filters are 1, 2, and 3 stop filters. That means that if your default exposure was 5 sec with no filter, that your exposure can be extended to 10, 20, or 40 sec respectively(5×2=10 x2=20 x2=40).

The bonus effect of using an ND filter is that it will saturate the colors, giving the surroundings a punchy and vibrant look.

Try it out and let us know how it went. Happy shooting.


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Category: Beginners Photography, Photography Lessons

About the Author (Author Profile)

Alan Graf is the editor and founder of Digital Photography Student. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, and is also editor of CRO-Wallpapers.com – a Croatian wallpaper archive, and his own photo gallery at http://www.alangraf.com.

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  1. […] and prominent rocks are all key elements that will draw you in to this photo. If you add silky smooth waterfalls and lush green vegetation, you truly get a […]

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