Long exposure techniques – playing with water

Long exposure techniques – playing with water

Long Exposure

We have all seen the photographs of waterfalls or beaches where the water has turned to milk. You either love them or your hate them, but aside from personal taste, long exposure photography is a good way to come to understand shutter speed. this article looks at ways to give water that milky effect. First you need a camera and a source of flowing water. Not all of us are lucky enough to be living in Iceland. Next it is best to have a tripod or another way of keeping the camera perfectly still.

To create the milky effect, you will need to have the shutter open for a while. The shot of Óxárafoss was 30 seconds, but you don’t need that long to create a milky effect, in fact 1/4 or 1/2 seconds will do it just as well. The following sequence shows the effect of different shutter speeds on the same waterfall.

Faster exposures

1/50 sec at f/5.6 iso400
1/50 sec at f/5.6 iso400

A 50th of a second is quite fast for a waterfall exposure. This is the sort of shutter speed that could be used for a hand-held photo because the fast shutter reduces the chance of ‘Camera shake”. Tiny droplets of detail can be seen in the image.  The chaos is unsightly and if this was your nasal hair you would tuck it in or trim it.  That is exactly the positive effect of a long exposure.

1/15 sec at f/5.6 iso 50
1/15 sec at f/5.6 iso 50

Slower exposures

1/4 sec at f/11 iso50
1/4 sec at f/11 iso50

When the shutter speed reached a quarter of a second, the individual droplets of water blur into one liquid flow.  You can now see beautiful order forming, but there is a still a bit of untidiness in the foreground, like a tramps beard.

1 sec at f/16 iso 50
1 sec at f/16 iso 50

Now we have order!

Multiple Exposures

The result!!
An HDR image using the variety of shutter speeds.

An regular HDR sequence would normally include shots with different shutter speeds, especially if you program the sequence in Aperture priority. An HDR with a variety of Apertures might work in some scenarios, but is not desirable because of the potential blending issues. Shutter speed variations don’t effect the blending process in the same way and are much more desirable in Landscape photography.

Stopping Down

You will hopefully be thinking that a 1/4 or 1 second exposure is going to burn out the image and over-expose it. In normal daylight it would, so there are steps we can take to reduce the light in a scene.

  • Aperture – use a small aperture such as f/22 or f/16
  • Use a slow iso such as 50 or 100
  • Use filters – a polariser will reduce light by about a stop, but a Neutral Density Filter (ND) will be the best option and they come in different strengths.
  • Mornings and evenings – take the picture when the light is not so strong

High Dynamic waterfalls

HDR can have an interesting effect as the different exposures will product different levels of detail and different levels of blur in the same image. Try an HDR with shutter speeds ranging from 1/4 and “1” seconds, you will get a nice blend of details and movement in the water.

 

3 exposure HDR in low light
3 exposure HDR in low light

Beach photography

The same technique can be applied to waves lapping against the beach.  This is so much fun that I can happily spend a whole day on a beach with a tripod and dark filter dodging the waves.

 

30 sec at f/11 iso 50
30 sec at f/11 iso 50

 

I would recommend watching the waves carefully and see where they make interesting patterns on the sand or rocks. It is useful to know if the tide is coming in or going out. Be careful, it is easy to get caught by rogue waves, especially at night. The best advice is to get set up and experiment with different apertures and shutter speeds until you find something you like. Enjoy yourself. More about beach photography.

Magical Dawn

Magical Dawn

A beautiful Summer morning at Jokulsarlon with some icebergs reflecting in the glacier lagoon.

Goðafoss waterfall – 175 second exposure

Goðafoss waterfall – 175 second exposure

I love visiting Goðafoss Waterfall in the late Summer. The sunset colours work so well with this dynamic, North Iceland waterfall. I was facing West around 20.30 on this September evening on a tour around Iceland.

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