arguably the most photographically versatile of the five elements, water is overflowing with ways you can use it to create images. still- lifes, portraits, landscapes – water can feature in them all, so take inspiration from our expert guide and your idea
Make a splash with your images by incorporating the most photogenic of the elements in 12 creative ways
1 A splash of food photography
Strawberries and cream, fresh citrus fruits in water and beans in a cup of coffee are all popular subjects for high- speed food splashes. They look impressive but are surprisingly easy to achieve. For a basic set- up, position a bowl of liquid in front of a clean background and on top of a surface that you don’t mind getting wet. If you’ve ample ambient light, you can use a fast shutter speed to freeze the splash, but realistically you'll probably need an off- camera flash or two with wireless triggers, and a remote release to fire your camera and flashes once you release the item of food. If you're using flash then set your shutter speed to match you camera's flash sync speed ( usually around 1/ 160sec) as the flash will freeze the action. Get your timing right and mouthwatering food images await…
Reflect on landscapes
You’re lake- side on a glorious still day, there’s a dramatic sky and vivid colours in the landscape: what’s your go- to composition? Is it to find lead- in lines, such as a jetty or rocky foreground interest to lead the eye to the far side of the lake? As well as looking at what surrounds the lake, try looking at what’s inside of it, too. on a still day you will likely see a mirror- like reflection of the surrounding area on the water's surface, which you can use to bring beautiful balance to your composition. For control of the reflection, use a polarising filter to adjust the sun's glare bouncing off the water's surface. To get the best results, align yourself perpendicular to the sun and rotate the polariser's ring for the desired strength.
Whether it's surfing, wakeboarding, jet skis or something a little more extreme like cliff diving, shooting water sports can deliver some refreshingly exciting results. But first, you need to decide if you want to be in the water too, or keep nice and dry on a boat or on the shore. If it's the latter that floats your boat, then you'll need to pack a long- range lens in order to fill the frame – think 300mm- plus. If you're intent on getting wet, then you'll need a waterproof housing for your DSLR to protect it, which can get expensive, but the good housings are expensive for a reason – they keep your kit dry! Alternatively you could use a waterproof action camera, such as one of the Nikon Key mission models, or a submersible compact such as the Nikon Coolpix AW130. To freeze the action, airborne droplets of water and all, opt for a fast shutter speed in excess of 1/ 1000sec, and use high- speed burst mode and continuous autofocus to track your subject.
Rainy- day portraits
there's no reason the rain should dampen your photography; there are dozens of portraits you could do in the rain. For instance, grab the wellies and an umbrella for a puddle splash – opt for a white umbrella to avoid any colour casts on the subject's skin and use a shutter speed of around 1/ 250sec or faster to capture the splash in action. alternatively, backlight a portrait with flash and use a wide aperture to turn the dashing rain into beautiful bokeh or keep your subject indoors and shoot a rainy window portrait, angling yourself and your camera to get rid of reflections. as it's highly likely that you’ll be outside getting wet, and with no assistant to hold your umbrella, make sure your choice of lens and camera are environmentally sealed, like the nikon d7200 and d610 ( see page 90 for details), and buy yourself a rain- sleeve just in case.
Whether it’s insects or blades of grass covered in morning dew, or water droplets teetering on the tips of leaves, petals and feathers, they're all attractive ways to add bokeh, depth and detail to your close- up images. You’ll need a macro lens, such as the af- s Micronikkor 105mm f/ 2.8G, or a standard lens with extension tubes if you’re on a budget. You’ll need adequate light so a macro Led or ring flash can be advantageous, otherwise position yourself by a window. if outdoors, look for backlighting to create beautiful bokeh out of surrounding dewdrops and use a reflector to illuminate the subject matter. Control your autofocus by selecting single- point af to pinpoint and compose a single droplet as well as use a mid- aperture to retain depth- of- field. due to their three- dimensional shape, droplets need at least f/ 5.6 to be in focus at close range.
Oil and water
Apparently oil and water don’t mix, but we disagree. They might be immiscible liquids, but when it comes to photography opposites can be quite attractive. Ideally you’ll need a macro lens, such as the AF- S Micro- NIKKOR 60mm f/ 2.8G, but a standard lens such as the AF- S 50mm f/ 1.8 with extension tubes is a good alternative. You’ll need a clear glass dish, water and some vegetable oil. If you want to add an injection of colour, try placing coloured paper under the dish and elevating the dish about a foot above to put some distance between the two. You may need to use Liveview or to manually focus as the image will be low in contrast. A tripod with a centre column that can set up in a horizontal position can help. For your lighting, use an offcamera flash or desk lamp and it’s worth playing around with depth- of- field, too, for different effects. See page 36 for a full tutorial on how to do it.
Abstract puddle reflections
Post- rainfall is the perfect time for some fun pictures. Look for uneven ground, such as dips before a curb, where water gathers and look around for interesting subjects that might be reflected. Landmarks, buildings, lights and people all make good subjects. A cloudy day is ideal to reduce glare off the puddle’s surface, but otherwise avoid shooting when the water is in direct sunlight to capture a blue sky. get low to the ground to split the scene between the reflection and the subject and bring balance to the composition, or try filling the frame with the reflection, or including just a little suggestion of the actual subject that’s reflected – three very different images from one potential scene. use a wide- angle lens such as the Nikkor AF- S 35mm f/ 1.8g, or Nikkor AF- S 24- 70mm f/ 2.8e to fill the frame, and single- point AF to focus on the puddle's reflection with a wide aperture.
We all know about using reflections in photography, but what about refraction? It’s a curious technique that can work with any transparent spherical object – a glass ball, glass of water or even a tiny water droplet. Light bends through the sphere, inverting the image behind it so, building on our droplets idea ( number 5), but instead of looking to eliminate reflections in the water, place another flower behind the droplet and capture the image within it. A macro lens is essential if focusing on water droplets, but a standard lens can be used if you wanted to try placing drops of water on a sheet of glass above colourful subjects such as Skittles, or using this technique with your high- speed water- drop photography. You can also capture refracted images using just glasses of water and pieces of coloured paper, too!
Moving water and shutter speeds go hand in hand, and there are countless ways they can work together for different effects – a favourite being misty water. The key is to use a shutter speed as slow as your DSLR will allow before it starts to blow- out the highlights, at which point you’ll have to introduce a Neutral Density filter. Depending on the speed of the water’s movement and the light levels, you may be able to create the effect using a shutter speed of ten to 20 seconds but if the ambient light is too bright, you'll need filtration. The Lee Filters Little Stopper and Big Stopper or Hitech Pro Stop ND10 are great for this type of effect as they extend your exposure by x600 and x1000, respectively. You’ll need a solid tripod, a wide- angle lens and a remote release for this technique as the slightest movement will blur the image. It’s worth noting that you’ll need to manually calculate your exposure to dial in using Bulb mode and also compose your image before applying the ND filter.
Wispy waterfalls are beautiful but sometimes you want to capture texture too so take time to experiment with exposures and filtration – if you’re in a woodland you may even find filtration isn’t necessary given the lower light levels. Depending on the speed and density of the falling water, you may not need to keep the shutter speed open for very long. For a gentle waterfall try a shutter speed between one and ten seconds; 0.5 seconds to two seconds is enough for waterfalls in heavier flow. Opt for a wide- angle zoom and have a two- stop ND filter to hand to extend the exposure, if necessary. Set your camera to manual mode and select a small aperture for depth- of- field. It’s worth looking for foreground interest and different angles to shoot from too to strengthen your composition, so take time to walk around the waterfall instead of shooting the obvious.
The power of the ocean is immense and sometimes this can be diluted by including surrounding landscape, so use a telezoom in the region of 200mm to 600mm to get a close- up of crashing waves as they curl or peak to produce powerful abstract images. A long lens is vital for getting somewhat parallel to the curls from the shore and a fast lens will let you make the most of the golden hours. You will want to avoid cloudy days as they'll leave the water void of any colour, so aim for the early morning and evening. Shoot in continuous burst mode as every wave will behave differently and you'll improve your chances of capturing the perfect moment. Play with shutter speeds, too, as the slightest change has a huge impact. Try panning while using a slow shutter speed or a fast shutter speed to freeze the drama in mid- air below brooding clouds.
Wildlife on water
"The way light and colour reflect off the surface of lakes and ponds can make your images look more dynamic. The key is to get close to the surface and notice how the reflections change the lower you drop. When shooting with a telephoto lens, a large aperture such as f/ 2.8 will blur the background and help the subject pop from the frame. For this image, I was shooting from a boat on Greece’s Lake Kerkini and I used a Nikon D810 with wide- angle lens ( NIKKOR AF- S 18- 35mm f/ 4G) to include the environment. I held the camera over the edge of the boat and low to the water with one hand while directing a diffused off- camera flash in the direction of the Dalmatian Pelican with the other. Underexposure was used to emphasis the dark and moody conditions and the flash helped the pelican pop from the image. Had the surface been still, we would have had a mirror image but, in this case, the ripples in the water helped create interesting patterns in the murky water below the bird.”