Smooth Water Photography

ISO 100, Aperture F/22, Shutter Speed 8 Seconds

During the rainy weather that we will have in the PNW, it’s always fun to go out and photograph the raging waterfalls, rivers, and creeks. I have always liked the “smooth” water images, and wondered how to do this once I had gotten into photography. After trial and error, I thought I would share what I have learned so that you can give it a try, if you haven’t yet!


The equipment needed for this, at a minimum, is a DSLR camera (so you can set your shutter speed), and a tripod.

If you happen to be out without a tripod, you could use a rock, a log, or a bridge handrail to carefully place your camera….the goal is to keep your camera very steady during the long exposure. Another goal is not to let your camera fall into the aforementioned raging waterfall, river, or creek.

It is also important NOT to use a fully automatic mode on your camera; I use AV (aperture value) mode. This semi-automatic mode allows me to program the shutter speed I want simply by raising or lowering the aperture. You may also want to use a polarized or a filter lens, since the more sunlight you have, the more you may need a lens filter to get your shutter speed slow enough to get the exposure you want.

The key is taking a well focused picture, with a slow shutter speed (I have used a shutter speed of anywhere between a half second to around 8 seconds, depending on lighting).

ISO 100, Aperture F/22, Shutter Speed 0.4 Seconds

Camera Settings

I use a low ISO (100), a high aperture (22), and a slow shutter (2.5 seconds) as a starting point, and take some practice shots to see what results I am getting. I always shoot with a polarized lens, and usually in a dark forest to allow me to use a very slow shutter speed to get a properly exposed shot.

The shutter speed I go for varies on the speed of the water. If it is flowing slowly, I start with the 2.5 second shutter speed, and I slowly decrease the Aperture Value, and take an exposure at each AV setting, and this will result in a shutter speed slight faster than the exposure before. I usually stop around a half second so compare my results.

The faster the flow of the water, the faster the range of shutter speed you may want to use (0.5 to 1 second), to give you the result that you are looking for.

ISO 100, Aperture F/22, Shutter Speed 8 Seconds


Don’t forget about your composition….the more directly the water flows both in and out of your photograph, the better. Also, objects like bridges, logs, and trees work great to frame your photograph, and give a point of interest other than the water to add more depth (pun intended).

Happy shooting!

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Learn some great photography tricks to capture your adventures!

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