The human body is made up of 65% water on average, so it’s little wonder the collection of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen is fascinating to us photographers. Most landscapers will have incorporated water in at least some of their shots, as will wildlife photographers. Even portraitists utilise its reflective or aesthetic powers every so often. Water is a powerful tool in photography, it can be used to create many moods or feelings. Waves crashing promote a sense of power, streams and rivers can be used to move the eye through a landscape or create a calming aura. The reflectiveness can be used playfully or to get a viewer to think.
So as a photographer who has photographed around it, on it, in it and above it, I thought I’d share some ways to use it. Starting with Spume.
The meaning of Spume is more important to photographers than perhaps its actual worth in reality. Spume is the tiny droplets of water you see at the end of a splash. It’s created when a kingfisher dives into a pond, when an elephant charges through a watering hole, when a surfer carves a wave or when a rally car races through a ditch. Those droplets are the hundreds and thousands on a cupcake, they are the tiny element that takes a shot from: “oh that’s a nice picture,” to “Holy hell did you take that… [jaw drops]… it’s awesome!”
Spume can even win a photographic competition for you.
To capture Spume effectively you need just one thing: a fast shutterspeed. Over 1/500th second is acceptable, but preferably around 1/1000th or more to really capture the frozen moment, any less and you are in danger of the spume being blurred and loosing its impact. You can also use flash, but careful consideration is needed and it’s easier, especially if you are outside, to ramp the ISO to obtain the speed and your images will start to get the standing ovation you’ve been craving.
To demonstrate the effect, I went out to a couple of local landmarks during a bit of a tempestuous sea. The idea was to capture crashing waves with Spume to show just how dramatic the effect is. There are not the greatest pictures I’ve taken, but I think they show how the Spume adds some Je ne sais quoi to the image.
I set the camera to Aperture Priority and selected a setting to deliver a shutter speed greater than 1/1000th sec. For waves I always set burst shooting mode and when I see a promising set coming I fit the shutter just before the wave breaks and hope I get a decent amount of spray. Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn’t. The idea is to keep trying and at the end of the day you end up with hundreds of shots and maybe three to four good ones.
To see a shot that did work, look at the lure angler (above) on the rock being coated in a perfect wave. That’s when everything comes together perfectly.
If you can’t find drama, look for the aesthetic quality water can bring to a shot. Reflections are a creative tool that add impact to many a shot. Still water found in lakes, ponds and even puddles help with interest and drama in many an image from landscapes to street photography. Get your camera as low to the water as possible and hunt around for the right angle to get maximum impact out of your composition.
The shot of Portland Bill lighthouse for example could have been rather dull. The light was mediocre, the sky held some interest, but not overly so, yet the reflection in the puddle makes the image.
The same is true of my image (below) of the Taj Mahal. There are millions of Taj Mahal pictures, all shot from the same places and they all look the same. I wanted a different vantage point so utilised the pond that leads up to the Mausoleum. I got as low to the water as I could to maximise the reflection.
Lastly, I’ll touch on perhaps one of the most tricky water shots to achieve and that’s what some call treacle water. The buttery smooth water seen in award winning images that fire up landscapists like nothing else.
Treacle water is a whole topic on its own and so while essentially it is simply a photo taken with a locked down camera (usually on a tripod) with a slow shutter speed, I will leave the merits of the different techniques to another article.
Water as I hope I’ve shown is an important part of a human’s life and an even more important part of a photographer’s life because it gives us life and a soul to our images.
Gavin Parsons studied photography at Huntingdonshire college one of the most eminent stepping-stones into commercial photography in the 1990s. His career skewed into journalism when he accepted the role of technical writer on Practical Photography magazine and then slid into the water and he became one of the UK’s top underwater photographers and was the editor of Sport Diver magazine.
Gavin is an award winning wildlife photographer, accomplished environmental portrait photographer and now a Youtuber with a growing channel dedicated to all things photographic.