We have all seen the photographs of waterfalls or beaches where the water has turned to milk. You either love it or your hate it, but regardless of that, it is a good way to come to understand shutter speed. this article looks at ways to give water that milky effect. First you need a camera and a source of flowing water. Not all of us are lucky enough to be living in Iceland. Next it is best to have a tripod or another way of keeping the camera perfectly still.

Öxaráfoss at Þingvellir, Iceland

To create the milky effect, you will need to have the shutter open for a while. The shot of Óxárafoss was 30 seconds, but you don’t need that long to create a milky effect, in fact 1/4 or 1/2 seconds will do it just as well. The following sequence shows the effect of different shutter speeds on the same waterfall.

1/50 sec at f/5.6 iso400
1/50 sec at f/5.6 iso400

1/15 sec at f/5.6 iso 50
1/15 sec at f/5.6 iso 50

1/4 sec at f/11 iso50
1/4 sec at f/11 iso50

1 sec at f/16 iso 50
1 sec at f/16 iso 50

The result!!
The result!!

 

You will hopefully be thinking that a 1/4 or 1 second exposure is going to burn out the image and over-expose it. In normal daylight it would, so there are steps we can take to reduce the light in a scene.

  • Aperture – use a small aperture such as f/22 or f/16
  • Use a slow iso such as 50 or 100
  • Use filters – a polariser will reduce light by about a stop, but a Neutral Density Filter (ND) will be the best option and they come in different strengths.
  • Mornings and evenings – take the picture when the light is not so strong

HDR can have an interesting effect as the different exposures will product different levels of detail and different levels of blur in the same image. Try an HDR with shutter speeds ranging from 1/4 and “1” seconds, you will get a nice blend of details and movement in the water.

 

3 exposure HDR in low light
3 exposure HDR in low light

 

The same technique can be applied to waves lapping against the beach.

 

30 sec at f/11 iso 50
30 sec at f/11 iso 50

 

The best advice for the beach is to watch the waves carefully and see where they make interesting patterns on the sand or rocks. It is useful to know if the tide is coming in or going out. Be careful, it is easy to get caught by rougue waves, especially at night. The best advice is to get set up and experiment with different apertures and shutter speeds until you find something you like. Enjoy yourself.

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