I love water photography. Ever-changing water scenery really sparks creative juices, as it offers a myriad of possibilities at any time. Whichever body of water you choose, be it an ocean, or river, or waterfall, watching the dances of the water will allow you to capture very different images. Moreover, adjustments of your camera settings will result in huge differences in your images.

Water photography images can be stunning and look pretty surreal. While an observer might think that it must be the work of a genius, or a result of the Photoshop, it is neither. Well, it is possible that it is a work of a genius, but what I want to say is that taking a great shot of the water bodies is not as hard as it looks.

“You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.” – Rabindranath Tagore

Even the beginners with the right equipment can grasp the basics very quickly. And they can show off with their mesmerizing photos of the silky waterfall, or something like that. Smooth, soft and velvety look of the rushing water is probably the most wanted effect. And it is easy to understand why. It transforms a nice or even beautiful landscape into the magic land that looks like it is out of this world. So, let’s see what it takes to get this skill.


Besides the camera, you need a couple of useful additions to photograph water. While you can take some amazing photos just with your camera, the conditions must be perfect. And you can wait for the right conditions for days. So, to make sure that you will capture some great shots you will need some extra gear.

  • Tripod – Tripod is essential as you will use long exposures. With long exposures, even the slightest shake of the camera will ruin the image. Using a stable tripod allows you to avoid this.
  • Remote shutter release – Same goes for remote shutter release. Pressing the shutter button can cause unwanted shake and blurry image as a result. With remote shutter release, you can relax and take shots easily.
  • Filters – ND filter and polarizer are needed as well. Neutral density filter is necessary, especially if you shoot on a bright and sunny day. It will reduce and soften the light. CPL or circular polarizer will remove unwanted reflection and glare. Polarizer allows the natural color to become apparent. The sky will be darker, the vegetation greener, and the water transparent.

Camera Settings

First of all, set your camera to manual mode. Shutter speed is the king of water photography. You can play around with all of the settings, but it is a shutter speed that allows that giant leap from ordinary amateur photo to the amazing one. The principle is very simple though. With very fast shutter speed you will get an image frozen in time. It is a great setting for splashing water, like ocean waves or running through the shallow water. With this technique you will see every drop of water flying through the air, freezing the action and showing the drama.

On the other hand, the slow shutter speed will give you that silky smooth appearance on the water photography. The exact exposure depends on the speed of the water, camera distance from the subject, but your shutter speed should be ½ of a second or slower. You will probably take most of the best shots with 1 or 2 seconds shutter speed.  

ISO value should be as low as possible. Low ISO will allow you to use a longer exposure.

As for aperture the perfect range is between f11 and f16. Within this range, every part of the frame will be clear. With wider aperture, you will get a shallow depth of field and unwanted blur. If your aperture is too narrow, you may get diffraction.

Once you’ve done the basic settings it is time to check out your composition and to set the focus. After you’ve figured out how much light you need, use a polarizer to remove reflection and ND filter to soften the light.

blue water photography splash preview

Final Act

Of course, these are just basic guidelines. Depending on conditions you will need to make adjustments on your own. Don’t be afraid to experiment with water photography. Always try both longer and shorter shutter speeds to see what you’ll get. Check out the background to see if there’s any unwanted blur. For example, in windy conditions tree leaves will end up blurry at longer exposures. To avoid this you may wait for the wind to stop, or you can take another shot at the fast shutter speed and blend the two images together in post-processing.

Always take some test shots and do some fine tuning if needed when doing water photography. I also like to take more than one shot for each scene. This way I try to avoid a mistake that might have gone unnoticed. Blurry leaves, a small bird, or my dog can cause an unwanted distraction. Well, a bird or an animal in the right position can actually improve the photo, but you get the message.

“Being a fish out of water is tough, but that’s how you evolve.” – Kumail Nanjiani


Water photography really offers so many possibilities. At the same time, it is not so hard to master the techniques to get the best results. It is a privilege for both professional and hobby photographers. So, grab your gear and go get some unforgettable images.