Dec 02

The Speed of Water

I have often wondered what is the best shutter speed to use when photographing moving water.

If I take a photo at a fast shutter speed, then the action of the water is frozen. This can be an interesting picture because we don’t perceive the water in this freeze-frame manner.

At the other end of the shutter speed spectrum is a much longer exposure – somewhere around 1-2 seconds. This results in a smooth, glassy, or even foggy appearance which, again, is very interesting because we don’t perceive water in this way either.

Somewhere between these two extremes there should be a shutter speed that gives the same impression of the flowing water that we normally perceive. I have read that when taking photos of sprinklers, that it looks most like rain at 1/60 sec. I wondered if this was the case also for running water. Let’s find out!

In this sequence I took a picture of flowing water at a variety of shutter speeds – enlarge the image to get a better idea of how the water appears. It appears to me that the most natural looking appearance occurs in the range of 1/45 to 1/90 sec with 1/60 being a good selection.

Of course, there will certainly be times when you want to capture the image that you can’t see with the naked eye.

In this case, I will leave you with the same scene, but two very different appearances. You may find that you prefer the more realistic view, but you may also enjoy one of these options also!



1 comment

    • Leah Drake on December 3, 2011 at 8:06 pm
    • Reply

    Hey Carl! This was a really interesting blog entry. It never occurred to me that we think of exposure and shutter speed as relative to how our eyes see it naturally. Very cool. I also made sure the Photo Club at UC Davis knows about your website. 😉

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