Once again, how do we blur water?

.5 second at f/9.  This is my favorite one.

.5 second at f/9. This is my favorite one.

One of the great creative joys of photography is learning to blur running water.  This kind of photo never gets old and is always visually appealing because you never actually see it, in real time.  In this case, the camera can see the world at a much slower speed than our eyes.  Here’s how to do it.

The obvious way to make this photo is to slow the shutter speed.  That is easier said than done.  Remember for a constant lighting situation, to slow down the shutter speed, you need to have a smaller aperture to keep the proper exposure.  My Sony RX 100 Mark II’s smallest aperture is f/11. Here are a series of photos with accompanying shutter speeds and apertures.

1 second at f/11.  The highlights are too bright and the water is too blurry

1 second at f/11. The highlights are too bright and the water is too blurry without enough texture.

1/3 of a second at f/8.  This is acceptable, but not as good as the cover photo.

1/3 of a second at f/8. This is acceptable, but not as good as the cover photo.

At some point we can not hand-hold the camera and get a well focused photo, usually slower than 1/focal length or 1/60 of a second.  At slower shutter speeds we will have to use a tripod.  I can not emphasize enough that if you plan to or want to make this type of composition, a tripod is a must.

1/20 a second at f/4.

1/20 of  a second at f/4.

1/30 of a second at f/4.  This is close to what it looked like to my eyes.

1/30 of a second at f/4. This is close to what it looked like to my eyes.

These photos were made on a overcast day deep in the woods with little natural light.  This made it easier to get a slow shutter speed.  However, in brighter light, getting a slow shutter speed, even with a shut down aperture is challenging.

In those cases you will need a filter of some kind to give you the extra stops you will need.  I have a 5 stop Slo Mor filter and a 8-stop circular variable neutral density filter from Singh Ray that will do the trick.  They are not cheap, but they are a must to get the job done in brighter light.

1.3 seconds at f/22 of Upper Yosemite Falls made in the middle of the day using the 5-stop Slo Mo filter

1.3 seconds at f/22 of Upper Yosemite Falls made in the middle of the day using the 5-stop Slo-Mor filter

Finally, you can over do it in this situation, too.  Too slow of a shutter speed can over expose the image and make the water too misty and create “hot spots.”.  I recommend trial and error in the field as well as bracketing the shutter speed to have some choices when you get to processing.

To see more of (and buy) our photos, please go to www.pamphotography.com.

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