If there is one type of landscape shot that nearly always impresses, its the long exposure, ethereal water type image. They look amazing, will wow your friends and peers, and are relatively easy to create.
However, in order to create great looking water shots, you will need a few important items of kit, a keen eye, and a good location. Today we are going to condense down into bite-size tips, the important elements you need to get started on long exposure water shots.
A Great Location
It might seem obvious but you are going to need the right location. Not all water is equal, a deep water lake will not have nearly enough movement in the water to get a great shot. Similarly, a slow-moving river will not work well. You are looking for bodies of water that have fast flowing water but not so much as they have become a raging torrent.
Good locations are on the coast on any but the calmest of days, fast running streams and brooks and of course waterfalls.
Time of Day
The time that you take your image is also important. Even with very dark neutral density filters, it is unlikely that you will be able to get uber slow shutter speeds during in the middle of the day.
The very best time for long exposures is the Blue Hour, the time before sunrise and after sunset. During this period there is enough light to record the scene but you will also be able to use ultra slow shutter speeds to get that silky motion in your water.
The golden hour is also a good time to shoot although shutter speeds may be shorter.
Strong Steady Tripod
The long slow shutter speeds that you need to get that feeling of motion in your shots mean that you need a good, solid tripod. A cheap, flimsy plastic model will simply blow in the wind and ruin your shots.
A good tripod will have solid legs made of aluminium or carbon fibre and a separate head. I find the best option for ultra long exposure is a ball and socket head. These can be easily moved for composition but lock very solidly when shooting.
Hanging your camera bag underneath your tripod can also improve stability.
A Cable Or Remote Release
There is not point in locking off your tripod if you are going to touch the camera every-time you take a shot. The best option is to get an electronic remote release. These will not only avoid the need to touch the camera but also many will allow you to program very slow shutter speeds.
Often cameras alone will have the option to go to 30 seconds or bulb. Electronic releases can allow you to accurately time exposures for several minutes.
Square Filter System
Even in the late Blue Hour, you are going to need some form of neutral density filter to get the shutter speed slow enough. While screw in filters are cheaper, a good square filter system will give you much more flexibility when shooting. They allow you to switch filters much quicker, will work on all lenses and you can stack the filters too.
Most of the big square filter companies have several ND filters going to +10 stops and beyond. Look at getting 1, 2, 3 and 10 stop ND filters first. Stacking an ND10 with an ND 3 will give you a massive 13 stop reduction in the light reaching your sensor.
With filters attached, it can be difficult to gauge what the correct exposure will be. Fortunately, there is an app for that. Actually, there are many apps both for IOS and Android. Personally, I use PhotoPills which is a multifaceted photographic app that has exposure and filter calculators built in but whatever you choose, it will make it easier to get the shot you are looking for.
Longer exposures tend to fool the white balance on shots such as water. The best solution is shoot in RAW. This will give you the flexibility to adjust the colour in post to get the look you are trying to achieve.
Go Slow, Real Slow
The last tip is to not be afraid to go real slow with your shutter speeds. If you are not used to shooting long exposure, then you might think 2 or 4 seconds is slow. However many of the very best, ethereal water long exposures use shutter speeds running into several minutes.
Be prepared to experiment. No one type of flowing water is going to have an optimum shutter speed. Try speeds from a few seconds to a few minutes to get the right effect.
Long exposure water can give us amazing looking shots. By using some or all of the tips above you should find yourself getting a higher percentage of amazing images.
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