The Water Softener

Yesterday, I posted a tutorial on proper use of Singh-Ray’s variable ND filters, the Vari-ND and Vari-N-Duo. Here are some examples that show the dramatic difference that you can get in your images when using really long shutter speeds.

We’ve all heard that in order to blur moving water, you should use a shutter speed of 1/15 sec or less. That’s true. In fact, during most daylight scenes, it’s hard to get shutter speeds slower than 1 or 2 seconds without some kind of filter. If all you have is a polarizing filter, you can use that to cut the light by about 2 stops. Often times, that’s enough to get you some decent water blur, but it won’t really create soft water.

Stream in the Smokies. Here is a 1/6s exposure, facilitated by a polarizing filter.

To get truly soft water, you need exposures of several seconds. At 4 seconds, things start getting very soft. By 15 or more seconds, the water itself becomes an ethereal foam, almost a gaseous form. On these shots, it’s important to have a subject in the frame that is sharp, like a rock or a tree branch. Otherwise, you just get a really soft, blurred image.

In this shot, I used the Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter to achieve a 4 second exposure. Notice how the water is starting to lose its definition.
At 15 seconds, the moving water becomes a ghost of its former appearance.

The fun part about using very long shutter speeds is that you really can’t predict just what the camera will produce. Trial and error are part of the process, so have fun with it!

Want hands-on field instruction on landscape photography? Join me May 13-15 in Colorado Springs for a fine-art digital landscape workshop!

4 thoughts on “The Water Softener”

  1. Thanks. It’s helpful that you’ve shown how the look of the water changes with several different shutter speeds.

  2. Good point about software to enhance colors. I haven’t shot film in years, and don’t really anticipate doing film in any meaningful way.

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