How to Create the Misty Water Effect

Elakala Falls

Have you looked at a landscape photographer’s photo and wondered how they got the water coming down from a waterfall to look so misty? Or how did they get the ocean in a seascape photograph to look so smooth?

“Paradise Gully” captured by Jim Worrall

My guess is that if you are starting out in landscape photography its probably one of the first things you’ve tried to do. If you got it right the first time that’s great, if you didn’t then let me show you just how easy it can be to create the misty water effect.

There is every chance that if you are just starting out that you won’t have purchased yourself any filters as yet. Filters will make it easier for you to create the misty water effect but they aren’t essential, its just means you’ll have to get up a little earlier in the morning and stay out a little later in the evening.

So the first thing you’re going to need to do is to get up early in the morning to get your misty water shot, its pretty much impossible to do it during full daylight conditions unless you have the new breed of neutral density filters which are extremely dark. Even then I wouldn’t recommend shooting during full daylight as you just aren’t getting the best available light. You should be ready to start shooting your subject at least 30 minutes prior to sunrise or 30 minutes after sunset, you will also need to have your camera mounted on a tripod as you’ll need to keep your shutter open for quite a few seconds to create the misty water effect.

Once you are ready to go its probably easiest to set your camera onto aperture priority mode and use the lowest ISO setting that you possibly can. Set your aperture to a setting around F16 if you can. It goes without saying that your next step should be to focus on your chosen subject to make sure your photo will be as sharp as possible. You should also consider getting a remote shutter release and to use mirror lockup to make sure that your camera doesn’t shake while you are taking the photo. Now for the fun part, take the photo! If your shutter is open long enough you’ll see that you too have created the misty water effect that you have been after. How hard was that?

If you decide that landscape or seascape photography is something that you definitely want to continue doing then you should at some stage consider purchasing a few neutral density filters, preferably the darker the better. The darker a neutral density filter the longer you can shoot your subjects after the sun has risen or the earlier you can take a photo before the sunsets.

Photo captured by Tomas Eriksson

Over the years I have found from experience that the best shutter speeds for creating the misty water effect is anywhere between 1 to 4 seconds. Anything less than this and the water doesn’t have that silky smooth look and anything more than that flattens the water almost entirely and makes it look almost boring. Of course every scene is always different and you may need to hold your shutter open longer or for a shorter period depending on what you are trying to achieve. Now for my last tip, make sure that you focus on your subject before putting on your neutral density filter otherwise its almost impossible to focus.

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