Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Moving Water

There are two kinds of water in photography. There is still water and there is moving water. Both can be interesting and both can be very effective elements of composition.
Woody Reflection
Still water reflects. It adds a dimension to a photo. If it is not reflecting, then it is a dark mass that adds visual weight which can help to balance elements of composition. Still water can add a sense of serenity and peace to a photo. Think of an alpine lake reflecting a distant mountain. You can feel the stillness of the scene. The blue sky, the pine-filled air, the glassy surface of the water, but especially the water. It has a psychological effect on us. We have a feeling that if the water is still and the sun is shining on it, then it is safe and we are safe in its presence. Photographing still water takes patience. The light needs to be right and the more mirror-like the surface is, the better.

Moving water is different. It brings action to the photo and a feeling of dynamism and energy. With moving water you have choices. In the photo of the fountain, I froze the water. It is still obvious that the water is moving, but with fast shutter speeds, the water is silenced. You get that same feeling as with a sports photo where the player is in mid air with some crazy look on his face. The action is there, but it is a moment frozen and taken out of time. It is unnatural. It creates tension because it is outside of our experience. We look at it and wait for the column to fall, the droplets to continue their arc downward.

In the photo of the McKenzie river below, I slowed down the shutter by closing the aperture a couple of stops and resting the camera on a rock to avoid any blur from shaky hands. This creates motion blur in the water while the trees and scenery on the shore are still in good focus. This tells our eyes that the water is moving, even though it is a still photo. That information relieves the tension in the photo and all is well with the world. We can view this photo as a 'normal' riverscape with the water rushing by us just like we have always experienced. You can almost hear the rush of the water over the rocks and feel the spray.

McKenzie River
Go out and find some water to shoot. Use it either as a main subject or as a compositional element. Just have fun and make some photos you like!