Photographing Moving Water

Photographing moving water is both easy and challenging. Here are some guidelines that you might consider applying.

There are tips here for those just starting to shoot moving water as well as those looking for ideas that might help them get better photos. But even expert moving water shooters might pick up a new technique. Bet ya will.

Get your camera off Auto or Program

These settings are almost guaranteed to give you the worst shutter speed for photographing moving water.

Decide if you want to photograph with a fast shutter speed or a slow shutter speed. I strongly prefer slow shutter speed — long exposure — but both can be successful. Here is a kayak race with a fast (1/1000 sec) and slow (1/15 sec) shutter speed.

1/500 TO 1/1000 sec

1/13 TO 1/30 sec

Use Aperture Priority, not Shutter Priority, to control your shutter speed. Aperture Priority will always give you a nominally correct exposure; Shutter Priority might not.

The series of photos below illustrate how changing shutter speed can affect the image. Auto would most likely give you a shutter speed of around 1/80 sec, the worst image of the set, in my opinion.

36A 1-80s.jpg36B 1-20s.jpg36C 1-6s.jpg36D 1-2s.jpg36E 2s.jpg

And if you do like I did here and take a series at different shutter speeds you can later decide which you like best.

Use a tripod

This is obvious since you are going to be shooting with exposures that are too long to handhold. It’s great to blur water but the rocks and other fixed objects in your picture need to be tack sharp for the picture to work. Plus your tripod might encourage you to use a long lens and capture small pieces of the scene rather than always getting it all in. “Photograph a phrase rather than a paragraph.”


Consider using a polarizer

This will do two things for you. First, it will cut distracting reflections from the water and rocks. Second, it will help you achieve a longer shutter speed.

Since a polarizer will cut reflections, it often serves to reduce the dynamic range in the photo which serves to lighten the shadows. The first photo below was shot without a polarizer; the second with.

Without Polarizer
With Polarizer

If a polarizer does not give you a slow enough shutter speed at your lowest ISO, what do you do? Use two, and rotate them to get the degree of darkening you want. Or you can buy an expensive variable neutral density filter which is basically just two polarizers. Here is an example of what you can do with this technique on a bright day.

30 second exposure in bright light

It is normally best to photograph moving water under overcast rather than sunny conditions. Not only does this help you get to a longer shutter speed but the reduced contrast is normally better photographically than the glare of the sun. And a light drizzle darkens the rocks, which often yields a more pleasing photo.

Don’t forget the rules of composition

Compose in depth, use leading lines, consider shapes, and don’t forget the “rule” of thirds. If shooting with a wide angle lens be sure to have a strong foreground, middle ground, and background. Often this means getting very close to an interesting foreground feature.


Try to find a way to add color when you can

Many scenes with moving water are very monochromatic. Winter certainly is, but other seasons can be also. Sometimes one can combine moving water with colorful reflections. This works best when the moving water is in the shade but the objects being reflected are in the sun.

Try something new

For those who are in need of something new to try, consider these three photos made years ago on slide film when changing ISO was a real challenge. However, the technique I used to get the final image can also be employed with many digital cameras.

The first picture of this waterfall was shot at 1/100 sec. It was the fastest shutter speed I could get with the fairly slow slide film that was in my camera and the very overcast lighting conditions. The picture is pretty bad. I didn’t use a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the droplets or a slow enough shutter speed to get pleasantly blurred water.

45   1-100s falls

The second image was shot at 1/2 sec. Here I had a long enough shutter speed to provide a pleasing blur to the water.

46   1-2s falls

Without changing film — or changing the ISO on your digital camera — is there a third option? Is it possible to get a photo where the water droplets are frozen as they come down the waterfall? Answer is yes, as can be seen in the third photo.

47   1-800s 9M falls

How do I do this? Think about it a bit before you keep reading.

The third photo of the sequence is composed of nine individual images each shot at 1/800 sec, all on a single piece of slide film. The camera I had was capable of doing this, so I did it.

You can do the same thing with many digital cameras, but you have to use the multi-exposure function intelligently. You must go beyond the normal default settings. On my Nikon digital cameras, when I go to multiple exposures, the menu asks me if I want to use Auto Gain or not. “Gain” is a misnomer. What “gain” really means is loss – reducing the amplification of the image. So if I dial in 9 or 10 exposures using Auto Gain, I get a nicely exposed image, but the shutter speed and aperture for each shot are the same as if I didn’t shoot a multiple exposure.

What I really want to do is use a very fast shutter speed for each of the multiple exposures without having to crank up my ISO to ridiculous extremes.

This is accomplished by simply turning the Auto Gain off and underexposing each of the multiple images. You do this by setting the exposure compensation to -1 if you’re taking two shots, -2 if you’re taking four, and -3 if you’re taking eight. If you’re taking ten, well you can probably figure this out for yourself, but -3.3 would be a good starting point.

So the next time you play with multiple exposures consider turning Auto Gain off and using exposure compensation to keep your ISO low and your shutter speed high even if you’re not shooting moving water.

Break the Rules

Sometimes you just want to use an aperture and ISO that gives you a slow shutter speed and fire away handheld panning on a subject moving down a river. I did this here with shutter speeds of 1/8 to 1/15 sec in the Grand Canyon.


~ Jim Block

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The Pemi Loop: 3 Days In The Middle Of Nowhere

Off The Beaten Path

A panoramic view of the vast Pemigewasset Wilderness

The Pemigewasset Wilderness from the summit of Mt. Liberty


There is a lot of spectacular scenery here in New Hampshire, a lot of it easily accessible, much of it visible right from the side of the road. When it comes to landscape photography this ease of access also means that many of these places have been photographed by just about everyone with a camera. Also, there are often large crowds at some of the most popular locations during prime shooting times.

I don’t like crowds when I’m photographing and I don’t want to photograph the same things everyone else does either.

I want to photograph the spectacular wilderness beauty that isn’t right off the side of the road. I want to photograph the places you won’t see on everyone’s Facebook pages.

I want to photograph the middle of nowhere.


Autumn in the Wilderness

Autumn in the Wilderness


One of my favorite “middle of nowheres” is the Pemigewasset Wilderness. With 45,000 acres of unspoiled wilderness in the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the Wilderness has some of the most beautiful scenery around. It’s also home to one of what many consider to be one of the toughest trails in the country, The Pemi Loop. The Pemi Loop is not a single trail, it’s several trails that when connected lead the ambitious photographer/hiker on a 32 mile trek through some of New Hampshire’s vast wilderness.

Not For The Faint Of Heart

A section of the steep series of stairs on the Osseo Trail

700, and counting.


If you plan to take on The Loop you had better bring your legs.

The trail starts and ends at the Lincoln Woods Visitors Center on the western end of the Kancamagus Highway in Lincoln, NH.  Over the course of the hike you’ll “enjoy” over 9,000 ft. of elevation gain over some very rugged terrain. Should you choose to do the loop in a clockwise direction, after leaving the summit of Mt. Garfield, a little over three miles later you’ll encounter one especially challenging section leading to the summit of South Twin. Here the trail climbs 1,122 rock and boulder strewn feet in 0.8 miles. That’s steep!

The reward for completing what Backpacker Magazine refers to as “The second hardest day hike in America,” is spectacular views, fresh air, and the chance to summit 8 of the 48 peaks on the NH 4,000 Footer list. With the option of 4 more if you’re really ambitious.

Personally I had no interest in making this a day hike. I wanted to enjoy every minute of it, so I did it over 3 days, staying at shelters or tent sites maintained by the AMC each night.


Bond Cliff and South Twin in Autumn

Rugged Beauty


Grab your camera, load your backpack, and head out into the middle of nowhere on your next photo adventure. The trip will be well worth the effort!


Autumn wilderness with Franconia Ridge.

Moments before sunrise from the summit of Mt. Garfield.


~ Jeff Sinon

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Mount Abraham and the Central Green Mountains: A Vermont Winter Road Trip

Whether you’re a grizzled Long Trail hiker or simply looking to enjoy photogenic scenery from scenic country roads, the central Green Mountains are an outstanding winter destination. Here the range transitions from the lower, gentler summits in the south to higher, more rugged peaks characteristic of the north. The portion of the ‘Monroe Skyline’ between Lincoln and Appalachian Gaps is an especially scenic area with a variety of options for explorers.

Winter view from the famous Long Trail.

Winter view from the famous Long Trail.

Along the east side of the ridge runs Route 100, one of New England’s best-known scenic roads. Near the village of Warren is the junction with the east end of Lincoln Gap Road. The historic Warren Covered Bridge, which was built in 1880 and spans the Mad River, is a quick detour off the highway here. If your plan is to hike Mount Abraham and the Long Trail, you can follow Lincoln Gap Road up the east side of the range. In winter, the road is closed near the gap’s height-of-land. However, you can park at the gate and walk uphill to the Long Trail crossing.

Note: Click on images to view at full size.



Winter sunset from Mount Abraham.

Winter sunset from Mount Abraham.

While no winter mountain hike should be underestimated, the climb to Abraham’s summit is relatively gentle in relation to other New England high mountains. From the trailhead on Lincoln Gap Road, the Long Trail northbound reaches the 4006-foot summit in roughly 2.5 miles. At the summit is a small alpine zone, one of only three examples of these unique natural communities in the Green Mountains (the others are on Camel’s Hump and Mount Mansfield). The spectacular views from this half-acre opening include Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks to the west, the adjacent ridges of the Green Mountains to the north and south, and the White Mountains to the east/northeast.


Appalachian Gap offers a dramatic passage through the Green Mountains.

Appalachian Gap offers a dramatic passage through the Green Mountains.


To continue the auto tour, from Warren head north on Route 100 to Irasville, then follow Route 17 west towards the Mad River Glen ski area and Appalachian Gap, the narrow high passage between General Stark and Baby Stark Mountains. At the gap’s 2375-foot height-of-land is a popular parking area and overlook with westerly views to the Champlain Valley and Adirondack Mountains.



4083-foot Mount Ellen is one of Vermont's highest summits.

4083-foot Mount Ellen is one of Vermont’s highest summits.


Carefully descend the west side of the gap, and follow Route 17 as it bends south towards Bristol. Now you’re on the west side of the mountain range. Turn off Route 17 and head south and east along the back roads in the Jerusalem and Lincoln areas, and you’ll find fine open views of the mountains. With its distinctive profile and snow-capped top, Mount Abraham’s profile makes for an especially nice backdrop.




To complete the tour, head south towards the junction of Routes 125 and 7 near Middlebury. Here you can loop back to Route 100 via Route 125 East through Middlebury Gap, or follow Route 7 north or south through western Vermont.

~ John Burk

John Burk is a photographer and author of books and guides related to New England. See his Amazon page for more information. 
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The Subtractive Magic of Photography

“Additive Magic adds to something that is there, multiplies it or turns it into something new. Subtractive magic removes elements of physical reality” (Source: Sword of Truth Wiki)

Thanks to “The Big Bang Theory” and the power of the all-knowing wikis, I can confidently quote from a source about a fantasy novel series and not worry about revealing my inner geekdom to everyone. For the record, I don’t speak Klingon or Tolkien Elvish languages, though I would like to.

I can’t remember where I first read about this, but someone essentially presented the concept that painters are additive artists and photographers are subtractive artists. This idea that photography is subtractive magic really resonated with me and reminded me of the wizards’ additive and subtractive magical abilities in the Sword of Truth fantasy book series.

"Ember Light" (Bass Harbor Lighthouse): I was hoping to convey the serenity of this scene without the distraction of everything around me at the time.
“Ember Light” (Bass Harbor Lighthouse): I was hoping to convey the serenity of this scene without the distraction of everything around me at the time.

Art Is Magic

To me, art can be magical in its role of conveying emotions and ideas. So, I like to substitute the word “art” for the word “magic” in the above quote, to partly describe the artists’ process: “Additive art adds to something that is there, multiplies it or turns it into something new. Subtractive art removes elements of physical reality.

An oil painter or watercolorist starts with a blank canvas and a scene before them and adds the elements they want to include to convey their vision as they paint. As a fine art photographer, I do almost the exact opposite. If I placed artists on a spectrum of “art magic” then painters and illustrators would be on the additive end and photographers and sculptors would be on the subtractive end. Graphic designers would fall somewhere in-between.


Most of my time in the field is spent composing an image in a way that isolates the idea /emotion /story that I am trying to convey from the distracting elements in the scene before me. I am more like a filter of the world’s art than a creator of original art. In essence, I let the scene pass through me and I distill it; stripping it of the unwanted and unnecessary elements to arrive at the essence of my vision.

In the field, I am always careful to minimize my impact on the environment around me while pursuing my subtractive vision. So, I try to position myself and my camera to avoid things like ungrounded tree limbs or branches from shrubs and ground cover intruding into the frame. From time-to-time, I might use my snowshoeing pole or tripod leg angled into the ground in such that it physically holds a branch out of frame. Or, I may shift my perspective lower so a distracting signpost is hidden behind a mound of snow or a beach dune.

In this image, I didn't physically remove anything during post (the wire/utility poles remain) but when composing I framed it in such a way that people standing to my left were not in the picture - giving the impression that I was there all alone.
In this image, I didn’t physically remove anything during post (the wire/utility poles remain) but when composing I framed it in such a way that people standing to my left were not in the picture – giving the impression that I was there all alone.

During post processing, I may even physically remove (i.e. subtract) more features – such as telephone wires, signage, photo-bombers and cows jumping over the super moon. I can do this because I’m not bound to the ethical standards of a photojournalist and that gives me a lot of freedom to remove all evidence of the cow jumping over the moon.

During post, I "subtracted" the telephone and utility wires from the mainland to the island in this image. This image is suitable as fine art, but couldn't really be used in a fact-based article about Nubble because it misrepresents the actual reality.
During post, I “subtracted” the telephone and utility wires from the mainland to the island in this image. This image is suitable as fine art, but couldn’t really be used in a fact-based article about Nubble because it misrepresents the actual reality.


Literally and Figuratively

Beside the literal, there is a figurative element to the subtractive nature of photography as well. For example, in my image above of the often photographed Bass Harbor Lighthouse, I didn’t need to remove any people from the frame because everyone was considerate and respectful of each other’s space. But, mentally it was a whole other story. If I had been alone, enjoying the serene nature of the sunset, then creating that image would have easy. But, the picture of all of the people on the rocks behind me tells the real story of that moment: tourists, photographers, and entire families with children playing on the rocks – along with all of the associated noise and ruckus you would imagine. I had to take a deep breath and work to isolate my mind from everything around me as I composed my shot and created my own internal serenity.

While "Ember Light" above presents Bass Harbor Lighthouse as a serene moment, this is what was happening behind me at the time. Also, take heart in the fact that when a landscape photographer "snaps a photo" of people, it's mostly not going to be that good because all the camera settings are geared toward tripod and longer exposurses shots! (that's my story for the poor focus and I'm sticking with it!)
While “Ember Light” above presents Bass Harbor Lighthouse as a serene moment, this is what was happening behind me at the time. Also, take heart in the fact that when a landscape photographer “snaps a photo” of people, it’s mostly not going to be that good because all the camera settings are geared toward tripod and longer exposures shots! (that’s my story for the poor focus and I’m sticking with it!)
"The Eye of the Tourist"
“The Eye of the Tourist” I had subjects in my viewfinder, but didn’t realize the tables had turned and I had become the subject of a photographer until the moment passed.

Fair warning though, sometimes this process of mental isolation can prevent you from seeing other moments develop. In my image “The Eye of the Tourist” for instance, I had my intended subjects in my viewfinder but didn’t realize I had personally become the subject of another photographer until the moment passed. Fortunately, I think, this resulted in a stronger image – but that isn’t always the case.

So, next time you are out there in the field composing an award-winning shot, you can think about how you are simply a filter of the world around you – using subtraction to create art.  But, I may be completely wrong about this. You may actually be an additive artist since you are adding (pun intended) your unique and personal piece to the world’s collective art portfolio – and THAT is always a good thing because this world needs more artists.

Tom Gaitley

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An Introduction to Telephoto Compression

The Basics of Telephoto Compression

Marblehead lighthouse with a huge super moon  rising on the horizon all in red against a blue cloudy sky

3/4 of a mile away from the lighthouse in Marblehead makes the moon appear large in the frame.

Most pros know all about telephoto compression so I’ll direct this to all of you newbies that just got a new DSLR for Christmas (or holiday of choice) and it came with a nice lens. The first thing you probably did was set it up to shoot a moon over a (church, lighthouse or similar land feature).

You got it off your card and into Lightroom and there was the moon in all its glory, a small white disk and nothing like your eyes saw it.  What did you do wrong? Basically nothing, but if you didn’t go big on the lens (lets say you only had a 24-105mm for instance) it could have failed miserably in this scenario. You may have needed one thing — more lens (longer focal length).

What I’m talking about is using Telephoto Compression

The moon rising next to a land-based object is always a desirable shot to capture. It’s also one of the most frustrating! The first thing to think about is how much lens you have to shoot with. If you only have a 50 or 100mm lens then you would have to be much closer to the Marblehead Lighthouse in this image. In fact I was in Marblehead’s Crocker Park which is around 3/4 of a mile away, across the harbor from the lighthouse. (I used The Photographer’s Ephemeris to pick my location) I was also using a 100-400mm Canon lens. This shot is not cropped in at all and as you can see I managed to get the lighthouse and moon filling the frame at 400mm.

As you choose a longer focal length, let’s say you have the lighthouse filling the frame at 100mm and then you zoom into 400mm for your focal length. You now have to back up to keep your subject the same relative size in the frame. The distance from the subject to the background doesn’t change and with each step back you jump up in focal length. The distance from the lens to the subject becomes larger but the distance between the subject and the background (the moon in this case) doesn’t change and creates a flattening effect.

You end up with the background object appearing larger and closer to the subject.

New castle beach in New Hampshire with a schooner, the mystic sailing by

The mystic through the painters frame with my cell phone.

Here are two more images, one taken with my cell phone and the data shows that wide open it is 3.7mm versus my 100-400mm Canon lens. Here is the setup: I was at New Castle Beach (NH) this past summer. I was lucky to be there when two schooners (the Lynx and the Mystic) were giving rides from Portsmouth harbor. I saw an opportunity to frame the ship in the “painter’s canvas.” First I had to get up close for my cellphone. In order to fill the frame of the wrought iron painter in this image, I had to move up close to it and snap the shot. But as you can see, doing so produced a hard time seeing the Mystic.

Now I put my cell away, picked up my tripod and camera and ran around 150′ away and quickly set up my 100-400mm. This shot is at 300mm and f/22 and you can see a big difference in the distance from the framed painter to the framed ship.

The Mystic as seen with my 100-400mm lens, demonstrates the compression between the subject and background

The Mystic as seen with my 100-400mm lens, demonstrates the compression between the subject and background

I had to move a good distance away so that I could fill the frame of the painter. Because I moved that far back the distance from me to the painter changed but not the distance of the ship to the painter. I will also point out that I took the f-stop up to f/22 on my 100-400mm to try to get both the painter and the ship in focus. The closer you are to the maximum focal length on your subject (at infinity or nearly so) the easier it is to keep both your subject and the background in focus. I was actually a bit too close for the lens and the subject, but it worked out ok, I think…

Photography PrintsIn conclusion, anything more than this is even enough to put me to sleep. As long as you realize that with some longer glass, you can achieve some great creative effects with near and far objects. I hope this helps and if you have questions then please leave a comment below and I’ll try to answer it.

This last example is my first ever selfie. I had a 17-85mm lens on my 50D. It was set to 38mm and it framed me in fine but it left the full moon setting over Kinsman Notch very small. But I doubt the moon would have come out too much larger with out longer glass and backing up across the road and probably even up the side of the hill that rises up from there.

Jeff”Foliage” Folger

Contact me through my Gallery page here on NEPG
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Images in this article are available in my online gallerys