Image No. 87 thru No. 92 – Water
The addition of water in an image will generally add a bit of interest to a scene, but in order to do so, the right conditions have to exist. For reflections, ideally the water should be very calm without ripples so that what is reflected is at least recognizable (mirrorlike would be the absolute ideal – see Image No. 11 ). Another condition that is sometimes neglected to be taken into account is it is best that the water is completely in shadow while what is reflected is in sunshine to have a good contrasty reflection. Also important to remember is that reflections are generally about two-stops darker than what is reflected, so a split neutral-density filter helps balance the light between the two in camera thereby avoiding overexposing your reflected object and reducing the amount of post processing needed later on. If there are small ripples in the water, then an exposure of about 1/15 second or faster will generally stop those movements if that is the desired result, or slower exposure will “blend” those together, which can also be interesting.
Moving water requires a different approach all together. First and foremost, the scene should be totally in shadow or at least as close to that as possible. In order to get those smooth flows through the scene, first you need some splashing going on, whether it’s flowing through rocks or over a drop. Cascades in a stream or waterfall will show up as very bright and can easily blow out so exposure is critical.
How you want those cascades to appear in the final image will determine your shutter speed which has to correspond with the speed of the moving water. The speed of the water is directly proportional to the shutter speed: the faster the water, the faster shutter speed you are able to use and still get a blur which is generally what is sought after rather than freezing the motion. If the water is slow moving, then a slower shutter speed is required to get the same effect. And if you want to get that really silky feel to the water, then very long shutter speeds are required which definitely requires the use of a tripod. To give you an idea, image no. 88 above was shot at 5-seconds @ f/18 (reflections from a clear blue sky above helped add color to the water, an overcast sky would not) and the faster moving water in image no. 90 was 2-seconds @ f/16. The use of a polarizer will also help by cutting down reflections in the still waters making the cascades really pop.
The real advantage of digital over film is the immediate feedback. When you look at the image afterward, you can determine right then if you achieved the desired result. If not, then make adjustments to either one or a combination of ISO, shutter speed or aperture until you’re successful. Past experience may get you close, but the adjustments will nail it.