Photo School: Wa­ter Tricks

Shoot swirling leaf ed­dies to make the most of fall color.

Backpacker - - CONTENTS -

Find the spot.

Ed­dies oc­cur ev­ery­where, but you’ll find the most dis­tinct swirls in pools be­low cas­cades and rapids where the wa­ter is mov­ing slowly and has plenty of room to cir­cle back on it­self.

Dim the lights.

You’ll need low light to pull off a long ex­po­sure with­out blow­ing out the high­lights. Shoot early or late, seek out shady north-fac­ing falls, or tar­get over­cast days, which pro­vide more even light. (As with any long-ex­po­sure shot, use a tri­pod.)

Com­pose your im­age.

Set up the shot with a di­ag­o­nal line be­tween your leaf eddy and the falls or rapids. Try get­ting low near the wa­ter to em­pha­size the eddy and make the falls feel dis­tant. Ex­per­i­ment with let­ting the wa­ter fea­tures fill the frame or shoot­ing just the swirl. Use lead­ing lines like logs, steep banks, and run­nels of wa­ter to draw the eye deeper into the photo.

Check your set­tings.

For the best sharp­ness, choose ISO 100 and keep the en­tire scene in fo­cus with a small enough aper­ture (usu­ally f11 or f16).

Gauge the wa­ter flow.

The slower the cur­rent, the longer the shut­ter speed you need to blur the leaves and wa­ter. It could be any­where from a few sec­onds to a cou­ple of min­utes, de­pend­ing on the flow. Take a test shot with a 5-sec­ond ex­po­sure and ad­just ac­cord­ingly.


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