How to Photograph Flowing Water

How to Photograph Flowing Water
From the Chimneys Picnic area
From the Chimneys Picnic area © William Britten use with permission only

Photographing one of the many creek scenes in the Smoky Mountains presents a few challenges. First is the desire to capture the sense of flowing water, rather than water that is frozen. To do this you will need your camera on a tripod with an exposure time of one-half to three-quarters of a second. If you go much longer than this, the water will appear foamy and surreal — which may be what you want in some cases. Take a look at the two photos below of a rock in a torrent of water.  The only difference between the two is exposure time. The one on the left was taken with a slightly longer exposure time that blurred the water a little bit more. There’s really no correct way to do it … try experimenting and pick the result that most appeals to you.

Photo Tip: longer exposure
Photo Tip: longer exposure © William Britten use with permission only
Photo Tip: less exposure
Photo Tip: less exposure © William Britten use with permission only


Beautiful Flowing Water
Beautiful Flowing Water © William Britten use with permission only

Another challenge with water is the glare of harsh lighting and the danger of over-exposing the whites. The simplest solution to this problem is to photograph on cloudy or rainy days or at least find a scene that is shaded from direct sunlight. In the example to the left, a close-in composition of a small cascade avoided severe lighting conditions.

A more complicated solution to harsh lighting is to take multiple exposures (bracketing). The idea is to take one or more exposures to get your shadow areas developed, then reduce the exposure time to bring the highlights (whites) down into an acceptable range. However, you will need to know how to blend your images with software such as Photoshop.

Finally, flowing water looks very dramatic if you get down low and close to the flow. Normally, the drama is increased if the stream is coming at you as in the photo below, and the one at the top of this posting. The final image below shows a creek scene with the flow going away. To me this perspective conveys peace and tranquility. You can decide when either perspective might be more appealing.

That’s my photo tip to achieve perfect flowing water for your Smoky Mountains creek pictures.

Wild Smoky Mountains Creek
Wild Smoky Mountains Creek © William Britten use with permission only
Smoky Mountains Flowing Water
Smoky Mountains Flowing Water © William Britten use with permission only

Click on the images above for a slide-show of larger versions. Please stop in and visit me to see the complete display of Smoky Mountains Photography at the William Britten Gallery in Gatlinburg, TN.

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