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Shooting Flowing Water

Boulder in Trout Brook, Natural Stone Bridge & Caves, Pottersville.
Photograph by Mark Bowie

Exposure Data

About 2 seconds, f/16, ISO 100

Toyo 4×5 View Camera, Nikkor 90mm lens (35mm equivalent = ~ 27mm)

In early and late winter, waterways are often open, and ice and snow make interesting patterns along the edges. I scout for these graphic subjects to set against the flowing water. I also search for rocks at or, better yet, just below the surface and still visible. Here at Trout Brook, in the Natural Stone Bridge & Caves geological attraction, in Pottersville, I found an outstanding specimen just offshore—a large boulder glowing yellow with the water flowing over it. Over time the water had worn grooves in the rock. Open waters reflect the colors of the sky, and on mostly overcast winter days like this one, can reflect a surprising amount of cool blues. Here the water cascaded over the boulder in beautiful blue ribbons.

Though the Natural Stone Bridge & Caves was closed for the season, owner Greg Beckler gave me a personal tour of this remarkable place, which boasts the largest marble cave entrance in North America. The brook plunges into the subsurface through a series of caves in which tourists can spelunk in-season. Gaining access to potential scenic hotspots is a tremendous, often overlooked, asset to photographers. Do some advance planning and inquire about access to private properties that may harbor photogenic subjects.

I photographed this scene with a large-format view camera, using one of my favorite techniques. I get down low and very close to a dominant foreground element and, with a wide-angle lens, accentuate the subject in the context of its environment. Whether using a 35mm-style digital camera and lens or a large-format system, the effect can be striking. Compositionally, the boulder is the star of the show and the perspective of the brook diminishes into the distance. The water swirls over the boulder and in a wide curve around it, leading the viewer’s eye downstream.

Flowing water is rendered differently at various shutter speeds. The effect also varies based on the water’s flow rate and the photographer’s angle to it. Generally, shooting at fast shutter speeds, about 1/30th second or faster, freezes the motion of the water—which illustrates its power, but is not usually pleasing to the eye. Shutter speeds in the 1/4 to 1/30 second range will usually freeze some motion, giving the water texture, but still allowing for some blur. Even longer shutter speeds give the water a silky, graceful appearance with fewer textural details. Experiment with different shutter speeds and consult the images on the digital camera’s LCD screen to determine the look you like best.

Mark Bowie teaches photography for the Adirondack Photography Institute. He and fellow instructor Joe LeFevre will lead a waterfalls photo workshop to Ricketts Glen State Park in northern Pennsylvania May 30–June 2. For information, including program descriptions and pricing, see www.adkpi.org. For more on Mark’s work, visit his website: www.markbowie.com.

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