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How do I get that misty water effect of streams and waterfalls I see in landscape photographs in magazines?
The effect you see in landscape photographs of streams and waterfalls where the water looks like mist or fog is obtained by making long exposures.
Many landscape photographers shoot with large format cameras that require using a small f-stop to obtain greater depth of field. Using a small f-stop requires a long exposure to expose the film. In addition, the photographers tend to use low speed film and the streams are in deep forests where the light levels are very low—requiring even longer exposures. The reason the moving water looks misty is because the water is moving through a relatively long time exposure, so the eddies and splashes blur. Even though it is possible to stop the motion of the water with 35mm and digital cameras, the effect has become fashionable and photographers want to emulate the look of large-format landscape photography.
The pictures below illustrate the effect.
The picture on the left was shot at 1/40 of a second, at f4.5 at ISO 1600. The picture on the right was shot for 2 seconds at f9.0 at ISO 100. The shorter exposure shows the eddies, splashes and bubbles. The longer exposure blurs the detail because the details are changing during the longer exposure.
To get the misty water effect:
- Set the camera to a low ISO so the camera will make longer exposures.
- Use a smaller aperture (f-stop) to increase the exposure time. Use the camera’s A (Aperture Priority) mode to set the f-stop manually. The camera will calculate a longer exposure time.
- Since the effect requires long exposures, use of a tripod is mandatory.
- It may be necessary to use a polarizing filter or a neutral density filter to block the amount of light reaching the sensor even more to obtain long exposure times.
- Shoot on overcast days. This will allow longer exposures and will also avoid burned out areas in the image that sunlight will produce.
- If possible shoot on a calm day. Branches and leaves blown by the wind will also blur and may add distracting elements to the picture.
This exposure technique produces a feeling of tranquility in the image. It is not suitable for all images of moving water. The movement of rapids and crashing surf, or large waterfalls such as Niagara Falls are best photographed using short exposure times to communicate the power of such scenes.
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