Water of Love, Love of Water

By , July 22, 2014 10:35 pm
A very useful tool of my trade, the white-red-green selectable flashlight; I got this one on the camping supply aisle.

A very useful tool of my trade, the white-red-green selectable flashlight; I got this one on the camping supply aisle.

In my current class, Intro to Digital Photography, I teach a lot of basics. I point out the effects of changing this, changing that, chaining the other, and how best to take advantage of those effects. One thing we discussed last night was shutter speed, and everyone had fun waving their hands in front of each other at 1/8th of a second, then at 1/500th of a second, to get a clearer idea how shutter speed is one key component in building an image.

Since I live in the world of photographing people (mostly) for a living, I tend to come down on the side of faster shutter speeds. Lots of people are fast, from toddlers to professional athletes, and most of the time I try to freeze the action of their movements to illustrate what they are doing for our readers.

One of my students asked me last night, “Richard, what’s a good shutter speed if I want to show movement?”

It’s a great question with a not-as-great answer: practice. Every time we try to illustrate movement, the scene and subjects are a little different, so my advice is to keep experimenting, but with the notion in mind that in photography, a half a second is a really long time, and a minute is an eternity.

The scene of the crime: this angle illustrates the lighting and direction of water flow. The best image of the evening was made on the other bank.

The scene of the crime: this angle illustrates the lighting and direction of water flow. The best image of the evening was made on the other bank.

Then, as luck would have it, I was at Ada’s Wintersmith Park this morning looking for a feature photo, which I found (of a young lady doing her daily run up and down the steps of the amphitheater there), and noticed that the lake was high. Sure enough, the stream below the lake was flowing.

Anyone who has tried to photograph running water in daylight has experienced the same frustration: the relatively fast shutter speeds dictated by the brightness of the daytime light create an image that looks wrong. It is neither amazingly crisp, nor does it seem to express how water flows.

Knowing this, I made a plan to return to the park at dusk, and did so tonight. I set up my Nikon D7100 with the AF-S Nikkor 18-200mm zoom on my best tripod as close as I could get without getting wet. I wanted to create as much blur as possible in the swiftly moving water, so I started at 30 seconds at f/22 and ISO 200, but that was entirely too dark. The only number I needed to keep was 30 seconds, so I bumped up to ISO 400 and f/11, and that was just right. The scene was illuminated by fading evening sky through the woods, and orange streetlights on the walking trail. To add an opposite color, I “painted” with my multicolor flashlight set to green.

30 seconds is the threshold exposure for creating really beautiful water blur. Longer exposures create an even deeper "cotton candy" look to the water.

30 seconds is the threshold exposure for creating really beautiful water blur. Longer exposures create an even deeper “cotton candy” look to the water.

4 Responses to “Water of Love, Love of Water”

  1. Dan Marsh says:

    Thanks for this.

  2. Wil C. Fry says:

    Very nicely done.

    Indeed the “right” shutter speed is really dependent on several factors, if you want to show motion. I depends on (1) how much motion you want to show, (2) how quickly the subject is moving, (3) how much light will illuminate the scene, and (4) whether or not you have a tripod handy. (Possibly other factors too.)

    Your last paragraph contains excellent, if implied, advice: Choose a starting point and work from there. If it’s too dark, change something. If it’s too blurry, change something. And so on.

    (Like you, I generally prefer the frozen moment, but there are certainly times when motion blur is the right answer.)

  3. Dan Marsh says:

    I second what Wil said; on a couple of assignments (most particularly the Fourth of July fireworks show here in Magnolia) I started with a predetermined formula, but then altered certain elements to either A) suit the occasion or B) make shooting more fun and convenient. In other words, I think what I am learning is, have a plan, but change stuff up if you find you have to.

  4. Wil C. Fry says:

    “I think what I am learning is, have a plan, but change stuff up if you find you have to.”

    Nicely put, Dan. And this works for so much in life besides photography too. :-)

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