Water Photography

Water Photography

Water is one of my favorite subjects to photograph. In this article, Barbara Bender shares loads of creative and original ideas for doing water photography of water in all its forms, from liquid to frozen. She also provides some useful tips to help you get the technical details right. Enjoy her helpful explanations and her stunning images!

Water: Not Just for Drinking!

by Barbara Bender

Water. It has no colour. It’s transparent. It’s common.
Doesn’t sound too promising as a photographic subject, does it?
Yet in spite of these seemingly uninspiring characteristics, water photography can provide you with endless possibilities in countless situations for making interesting images.

water photography
Water On Baking Pan in the Kitchen
© Barbara Bender

Large Bodies of Water

In addition to being the subject of the usual waterscapes, oceans, lakes, and rivers contain vast amounts of the liquid itself to work with. Although water has no colour, it reflects whatever is nearby, and large bodies of water usually appear blue because of the reflection of the sky. However, because conditions can change, there can be enormous variation in hue, and the appearance of the water can vary dramatically with the weather and time of day. Often, particles suspended in the water and the composition of the bottom itself can affect the colour as well, especially in oceans. Colour can also vary according to the depth of the water. It is not uncommon to see many bands of varying blue, turquoise and green all at the same time, in the same location, as lighting conditions change.

water photography
Waves, Hawaii
© Barbara Bender

Closer to shore, there can be reflections from boats, buildings, trees, or docks et cetera to work with. When the surface is still and glassy, these reflections can be almost mirror-like, and the presence of ripples and swells can distort the reality of what is being reflected into fantastic abstracts of colour, shape and line.

Moving water in the form of waves, waterfalls, and currents can present different kinds of opportunities for water photography. By experimenting with various shutter speeds at the time of exposure, water can be captured either quickly, rendering it into frozen, glass-like shapes and droplets, or slowly, resulting in soft, ethereal, milky impressions. Often, such photographs portray the water as a feature of the larger landscape. For a change, try to photograph just the water itself, or include only small sections of the shore or rocks in order to convey its behaviour as it moves around or against these obstacles. Don’t shoot only one or two frames. Make dozens of photographs for each shutter speed setting. Because water is moving at different speeds and configurations, each image will be different. Remember that you can also pan during the exposure, moving your camera in different ways. Digital cameras come into their own for this kind of water photography play. Just be sure to have lots of memory cards and fresh batteries.

water photography
Bala River
© Barbara Bender

Water in Containers

Swimming pools, bathtubs, sinks, and potholes, can all contain water and provide possibilities for water photography. In these instances, it’s more about shooting through the water for the unique effects it can cause, rather than photographing the water itself. Because the amount of liquid in such containers is much smaller, the colour can take on the hue of the vessel itself, or whatever is nearby. Reflections are often easier to find and work with because the surface is generally quieter. Clean water is clear, making it possible to see the details of the container distinctly, so you can photograph items or details on the bottom or in the water itself. These often can appear distorted because of the subtle movements of the water, and therefore are more visually interesting. The physical phenomenon of refraction adds an exciting visual dimension, as these objects or details appear bent or distorted. Even chaotic patterns of light bouncing off the bottom of the vessel can make unique photographs.

water photography
Swimming Pool Steps
© Barbara Bender


Water in Action

You can photograph water which flows from fountains, faucets or garden hoses. Play with various shutter speeds here as well. Backlighting in these situations can add a lot of drama and interest. During heavy rainfalls, if your camera is well protected, try to capture the streaks of rain with both fast and a variety of slower shutter speeds, and also shoot through the deluge itself. Heavy rain can soften and distort the appearance of whatever is behind it. Try photographing through rain-splattered or streaming windows or car windshields.

"…water photography can provide you with endless possibilities in countless situations for making interesting images."


Water in Other States

Not only can water be photographed in a liquid state, images can be made of it when it is in solid or vapourous forms. Snow, ice, frost, steam, rainbows and clouds are all made out of water. Try to make these the subject of your water photography. After a period of windy weather, isolate snow drift patterns and capture the undulating forms. Remember that snow is very light in tone, so you will have to overexpose to some extent to preserve the brightness. Also, snow can take on colour from light. Shadowed areas can appear blue on sunny days, and early and late in the day, can appear golden. Experiment with different shutter speeds when attempting to capture falling flakes.

Ice in lakes, rivers or even puddles can present a variety of colours, cracks, bubbles and patterns to experiment with. Gorgeous frost patterns can be photographed on windows that are not well insulated. If you live in a warm climate, shoot ice cubes or containers of frozen water which you’ve made yourself in the kitchen. Try suspending petals, leaves or other objects in the water before freezing and photograph them.

water photography
Puddle Reflection
© Barbara Bender

Mist and fog, composed of minute water droplets, obscure and soften details and features, and can be used to create images which can be moody and evocative. Often these conditions can be quite delicate in appearance, so preserve the lightness by overexposing slightly.

Cloud formations are fascinating to work with, and constantly change shape and colour with the weather and time of day. Make them the main subject of your water photography for a change.

water photography
© Barbara Bender

Water is available to photograph in some way, anytime and anywhere. So, take advantage of this free, abundant substance. It might be common, but the results can be anything but ordinary.

…And don’t forget to drink your eight glasses a day while you’re at it!


About Barbara Bender


Barbara Bender

Barbara Bender is a freelance professional photographer and writer who uses various creative techniques, emphasis on design, and simple, often graphic composition to make photographs which are frequently expressive in nature. Her photographs have been featured in such publications as Nature’s Best Awards Issue, Black and White Magazine, and Color Magazine. A series of articles on photographic Creativity and Playfulness was featured in PhotoLife Magazine in 2010. Over forty-five of her images have been used as book covers for Guernica Editions. As an active member of the Greater Toronto Council of Camera Clubs, she gives presentations and workshops on various photographic topics.



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