Phototip 2 – using water as a creative medium

West Pier Brighton West Pier Brighton, England

Taking photographs of moving water can be a very satisfying way of expanding your creative expression and is relatively straightforward. I was looking to create an atmospheric shot that was worthy of the abandoned pier. This type of shot should be relatively easy for anyone to replicate.


The composition was straightforward as the subject lends itself to a close symmetrical shot with no distracting features but I had to take the shot from a little to the right due to a long concrete remnant on the beach that would have been in the way had I gone for a shot from the exact centre. The burned-out pier is a strong enough subject in itself and adding something else would have reduced the atmosphere.

For this shot I used the following equipment:
Fujifilm X-Pro1 camera
Fujinon X 18-55mm zoom lens (equivalent to 27-82mm on a full-frame camera)
Hoya circular polarizing filter
Hoya ND400 neutral density filter
Manfrotto Befree tripod

The camera was set as follows:
ISO 200 (lowest setting available to maximise exposure time and reduce noise)
Exposure was 10 seconds at f6.4 (camera set for aperture priority and zoomed in to 50mm)


In this case there was a lot of water movement as the waves were reasonably large but moving slowly. This up and down disturbance of the water provided an opportunity to take a shot with a milky appearance to the water with no clear boundary between the water and the subject and the exposure time was chosen to maximise this. The sun was to the left of the shot and partially obscured by the clouds so the light was strong but quite diffuse which lent itself to this style of shot. The spot meter was used on the pier and both the foreground and sky were slightly overexposed because of this adding to the desired effect. It is worth bracketing the shot when doing this to ensure you get the desired result.

Post processing was done using Lightroom 4 – the main changes being a reduction in clarity and contrast together with setting the black slider to -42 to bring out the subject against the light background.

Another shot taken on the same day is below – this was done using essentially the same technique but with a much longer exposure of 28 seconds at f13. The only approach to take when shooting water is to try out lots of different shutter speeds for each shot to make sure the water texture you finally end up with is the one you were looking for. Problems to watch out for include any areas of strong light reflection on the water (they will burn out the shot badly during a long exposure) and over-long exposures for large rivers which can end up with a dull and fibrous appearance which is rarely attractive. Good luck and happy shooting!

West Pier Brighton West Pier Brighton, England

About photoponica

A documentary style photographer - started with film now shooting digital with the Fuji X system.
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