Water: long or short exposure?

Started 3 months ago | Discussions thread
Gary from Seattle Veteran Member • Posts: 5,131
Re: Water: long or short exposure?

Graham Meale wrote:

My preference with moving water is to use either a very slow or very fast shutter, not something in between. The latter provides an "arty" effect if that's what one desires (and by the way I seldom do), whereas the other "freezes" the motion.

I think it depends on the volume of flow - but I am thinking here more of waterfalls. Still, when I shot with big waves whose tops were being blown back seaward by a strong offshore wind at Shi Shi Beach a couple of years ago, freezing the action was very interesting. A blended shot would not have been. You definitely get more color in shots with faster shutter speeds as the OP's images demonstrated.

With waterfalls, I would shoot something like Nevada Falls in Yosemite in spring in full sun with a high shutter speed to emphasize the power of the falls. With Burney Falls near Mt. Shasta, which had less volume, lot's of moss and cool rocks, my best images were not of the falls, but of smaller subsidiary falls of water. By keeping an intermediate SS of about 1/15 to 1/5 second, there was sufficient flow to be able to trace each flow (or trickle) of water as it dropped and splashed from rock to rock. Had I shot a faster SS none of this flow would have been evident; had I shot much slower the individual sprays would have been lost, making the blended mage far less interesting. I this all depends on the volume and consistency of the pattern of flow. Some of the shots I took near Mooney Falls in the mid-90's were similar, though my best image from there is of blended flow mimicking travertine limestone and hanging on my wall - Phillip Hyde apparently took the same image.

Shooting fast moving small streams (and most often waterfalls), the key is not to have too much white water as it detracts. Then, shooting an area of good flow, but not sufficient to produce a lot of white water, and flowing through boulders, I might prefer to shoot at a longer SS, but it all depends on the rate of flow. South Creek near Bishop is a good example if you find the right place to shoot. Perhaps my best stream image was taken there in the mid-90's.

With rivers, it all depends; perhaps some blending is what I might do on average, but if I want the color of rocks to show through the river flow, or if I want a nice warm reflected tone in a detail shot, I would probably freeze the action to show the best reflections and the detail of the flow.

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