How to Photograph a Waterscape

You are in a beautiful place, surrounded by moving water. You have your camera with you, but somehow every time you click the shutter, it doesn’t seem to represent the serenity you are feeling. Frustrating, right?

Here are some simple steps that will help you get photographs that will bring your waterscape to life and get a really great souvenir of your peaceful moment.

1. Bring your Tripod

To get a crisp clean shot, your best bet is a sturdy, lightweight tripod. This will help with dim or low light situations and to capture images with a long exposure time (the length of time the lens is open to capture the scene). Any shutter setting lower than 1/60 is VERY difficult to hand hold still enough to get a successful shot. A tripod can save you a lot of frustration and spare you a lot of blurry shots.

If you don’t own a tripod, you can get creative by setting your camera on a log, bridge, or other flat and dry available surfaces. I recommend keeping the neck strap on securely around your neck if you decide set your camera down on anything. Nothing that can ruin a nice moment like your camera getting dinged or dunked.

Little Falls

2. Use a Low ISO

In order to get the best look, you should select the lowest ISO available. Most DSLRs have ISO 100 as the lowest setting. I’m told that there are some cameras that will go lower (between 60-85), so select the lowest one available for your camera. This will help with creating the optimal shutter speed.

3. Use a Slow Shutter Speed

In order to get that rich and silky look from the ocean, creek, stream or river that your photographing, you’ll need to select a slow shutter speed. If you are new to taking your camera off auto mode, use the shutter priority mode on your camera. If you have a DSLR, this setting will be labeled “Tv”. Other point and shoot cameras may use “S” to indicate shutter priority mode.

Once you select the mode, set the shutter speed to the longest available setting. The longer you can set the shutter for, the more beautiful the water will look.


4. Create Depth

When looking through the lens of your camera, its important to look for elements that will enhance your photograph. Look to have something of interest in each of these three zones: the foreground, the middle ground, and the background. By paying special attention to these three zones, you’ll automatically ensure that your achieve some measure of depth. This will allow the viewers eye to travel around your photograph making them linger longer and help the audience feel as though they are actually looking into that space rather than a photograph of it.

Helpful Tip: In order to get a workable foreground, you may need to lower your tripod. If may be a little awkward to see through your lens, but it makes a big difference to the final image to get something in this zone.

5. Be Aware of your Surroundings

It’s easy to get preoccupied while setting up your camera and trying to find the best angles for your photographs. Make sure you wear good shoes and be confident in your footing while working. Steer clear of slippery rocks, high brush/grasses (ticks!!!), and animal life.

While taking these shots I was carefully running in and out of areas covered in poison oak. Make sure you watch your step so you don’t end up itching all over while editing your amazing shots later.

Double Falls

6. Take your Time

You might want to test out your technique by using a running faucet in your kitchen or bathroom or find a nearby fountain. This will help you get adjusted to your camera settings before heading out and save you some headache once you get to your location.

You are trying to create a work of art, and we all know that takes some time. Once on site, it may take a few minutes to get in the swing of things. Be patient with yourself and allow yourself the time to make adjustments. See what’s working and what isn’t. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the settings and see what a change will do. That is what your display is for!

Remember that any mistakes you make will help you make smarter choices in the future and give you valuable experience.


7. Send a Scout Ahead

It’s always a good idea to bring someone along to help carry some of your gear and enjoy taking a leisurely exploration of a beautiful area. What’s even better is to have someone who likes to wander and might find some great spots that you may not have seen yourself. It will also give your helper something fun to do while your distracted being an amazing shutter bug!

8. Put the Camera Away

This is something I’m learning to do myself. Every once in a while you’ll find that you’ve done more of your viewing through the lens of a camera rather than taking it in with your own senses. As wonderful as it is to have a record of the places you’ve been, it’s even more important to have a memory to make that photograph special.

So take my advice and dedicate some time to just enjoy yourself and the moment you are in. These are the experiences that make our lives rich and wonderful.

Creek Side

All photographs taken at Uvas Canyon in Morgan Hill, CA while on a camping trip with my mom last week.