Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Photographing Water: Reflections and the Deep Blue Sea

Hearst Castle: Neptune PoolMany travelers think the secret to successful reflective water photographs is pure luck, nothing more. Of course, you already know, if for no other reason than I’m writing this article, that it’s not true. Then again, for the traveler, luck does play a part in making successful water photographs, but you can make your luck to an extent.

A significant problem for travelers wanting to make great water photographs is the serious time constraint in which we often find ourselves. Sometimes you can’t possibly schedule yourself at a particular location at a particular time. Sometimes when we’re at a great place for a photograph, the weather, wind or rain, for example, won’t allow us to create the photograph we’ve been looking forward to making. And sometimes despite our best efforts we just never get a chance to return to a great location a second time.

White Cheeked Galapagos PintailTherefore, when we do have the opportunity to create great reflection photographs, and have the chance to take photos of the deep blue sea, we have to be prepared to get it right the first time.

There are techniques and concepts which will enable us to make the best of our water photographic opportunities while traveling.

Some of the most sought travel photography images are water reflection landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes. Often the reflections are the story of the image, or are used to augment the photo by helping to bring the image more depth and more life.

One of the best ways to enhance your water reflection image opportunities is to schedule yourself at promising locations at specific times of the day. For water reflection photos, you want your light relatively low to the horizon, and directly focused on the object you wish to see reflected, but not directly on the water in which you wish to see and photograph the reflections on.

Philadelphia SkylineSchedule your landscapes, seascapes or cityscapes with lakes, seas, and rivers, in early morning or late afternoon when the sun is close to the horizon. If you want to add more drama and warm color to your photos, be there as the sun comes up or goes down, during the “golden hours.”

During times when the sun is low, mountains will be brightly lighted, but the lake in front will not, and will pick up their reflection. The skyscrapers of urban centers will shine and reflect in the river which runs beside them at these times. During these hours your flexibility for composing your image will have few constraints. For the best reflection shots have the sun behind your back.

When the sun is higher, the shade over a pond can cut the overhead light and also permit you to pick up reflections in the water. You can often find favorable conditions like that at watering holes for all sorts of beautiful wildlife where their reflection can especially add welcome depth and extra drama to your photograph.

Galapagos: Kicker RockStill water conditions help you catch reflections in water. The smaller the water’s movement, the more mirror-like the reflections can become, but even with some water movement, at sea, for instance, when you catch the light at the right time, at the right angle, the affect can be stunning. See how the reflection of Kicker Rock in the Galapagos Islands, in the Pacific Ocean, elongates and increases Kicker Rock’s enormous mass. This photograph was taken from a zodiac hundreds of yards from the rock formation in the ocean.

For DSLRSLR and some Point and Shoot camera users, a photographic tool you should consider investing in to help you create water reflection photographs is a circular polarizer. Remember the polarizer’s effect is stronger when you have the sun at 90° on your left or right. It’s less useful with the sun in your back and doesn’t really work with the sun in front.

Polarizers work with reflections by controlling the amount of reflected light which exposes the film or digital sensor. With a polarizer, you can slightly enhance the effect or wipe it out entirely. You can dial in precisely how much effect the polarizer will have on your photo by viewing the effect in your viewfinder. As a bonus, the polarizer can enhance the blue of the sky, deepening and darkening it.

If water is a bit on the rough side, you can smooth it out by a long exposure of 1–4 seconds. This can produce some very interesting effects. You’ll need a tripod for an exposure of that duration, or some other device to hold your camera rock steady.

Iceberg in Disenchantment BayThere’s nothing more disappointing than taking a photograph of a beautiful blue sea and have it look drab and/or greyish. While the best time to take reflection photographs is early morning or late afternoon, the best time to get beautiful blue sea images is when the sun is straight up, high above the horizon, as close to vertical as possible. Overhead sunlight penetrates the ocean, with minimal sunlight reflected by the water’s surface and that in turn helps to create the magnificent sapphire blue effect of deep ocean blue.

When making a photograph in which you want ensure you capture the blue color of the sea, if you use a polarizer, please understand, while it can control reflection, and can enhance the blue of the sky, it’s not capable of enhancing the blue of the sea.

1 comment:

Denise said...

Great article. I didn't realize a polarizer could help so much.

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