Shutter Speed for Water

I just got back from Florida where I shot a lot around beaches at sunset. In looking back at some of the shots I got there and some of the other shots of streams, waterfalls, lakes, and shorelines I have taken over the years, I believe the single biggest factor affecting the appearance of an image around water (particularly moving water) is shutter speed. 

Check out the images below, which show different shutter speeds used to photograph different bodies of water.

Stump Hole on Cape San Blas at a 1 Second Shutter Speed

Cape San Blas Stumps Square

Rifle Falls in Colorado at 5 Second Shutter Speed

Rifle Falls along Rifle River

Cape San Blas by Moonlight at 30 Second Shutter Speed

Cape San Blas Stumps under Moon

Frankfort Sunset at 1/80 Second Shutter Speed

The Violent Sunset

As you can see, shutter speed has a dramatic effect on how the image appears. The long thirty second shutter speed shot has an other-worldly, ghostly look to it. The 3 second waterfall exposure is just enough to give the falls a flowing appearance without blowing out the shot. The 1 second exposure on Cape San Blas conveys action in the waves. They flow, but their direction is clear. The 1/80 shutter speed exposure in Frankfort stops motion to show how violent the waves were on this windy but otherwise beautiful evening. 

When around water, think shutter speed first, then adjust ISO and aperture accordingly. To get the moonlit Cape San Blas shot, a wide aperture and higher ISO (400) was necessary. Likewise, a higher ISO (800) and aperture was needed on the Frankfort shot. With the light decreasing at sunset, there was no way a 1/80 shutter speed would work without such adjustments.     

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