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How To Photograph Rivers

Find out why you should spend some time photographing rivers.

|  Landscape and Travel
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Rivers meander across many parts of our country, breaking up the green of the fields with fast flowing or sometimes gentle waves of water. These masses of water make excellent photographic subjects all year round but when they sit alongside Autumnal colours they really shine.

River, Autumn 
Photo by David Clapp -

Gear Suggestions:

Take your wide-angle lens along for shots of the landscape as the river bends and twists through it while your tele-zoom will be useful for work down on the bank, when you want to bring the distant curves of the water closer to you.

Take your tripod and cable release along so you can smooth the flow of water with long shutter speeds and a polarising filter will give you a richer image, removing glare from the water, wet rocks and foliage.

Waterproof walking boots or, if you have them, waders will mean you can get into the water and not worry about getting your feet wet.


Time Of Day / Weather

If you open your curtains and find your day's going to be overcast head to the river as this weather, or the soft light of the morning and evening's perfect conditions for a spot of photography.

Standing In The Water

You can, of course, get perfectly good images from the side of the river but as long the water's not flowing fast enough to raft down, you'll get a better view from in the water. Just watch your footing and don't go anywhere too deep. This works particularly well if you're near a waterfall as you can get right in and fill the frame with the falls.

Guide With The River

Back on dry land, use the winding curves of the river to guide the viewer through the image. To do this, find a position on a curve or just bellow it if you want a wide section of the river to start in one corner and meander through the rest of the shot. The lines of the river can also be used to direct the eye to an object on or near the river. This can work with numerous objects including boats, trees and waterfalls. If you do this, try to remove any other distracting objects from the scene as if your shot's too busy, the viewer won't know what to focus on.

Use Frames

Look for natural frames that can act as guides into your image. Fences, gaps in hedges or overhanging trees will cradle your landscapes nicely. More so at this time of year with the reds and yellows painting the foliage and trees.

Slower Shutter Speeds

While you're by the water you might as well get a few of the popular 'smooth' water shots. To do this you'll need your tripod for support and long shutter speeds. Try a speed of 1/8sec to 1/15sec but there is no right or wrong speed for this as how factors such as how fast the water's flowing and how much blur you want in the image will alter the times.

Just be aware that this will blur everything that moves in the shot so if you have trees or any other foliage near by this will end up blurred too. An easy fix is to take two shots: one with the slower shutter speed and then another with a slightly quicker one then combine them later on your computer. Just watch your exposure for all the shots you take as the large areas of water can fool the meter into underexposing, making the picture too dark. Shooting at plus and minus will solve this problem easily though. If it's still too bright try fitting a polarising filter to remove some of the glare and absorb some of the bright light that's fooling the meter. Then once you have your 'silk like water' shots, crank the shutter speed to emphasis the power and movement of the water.

Find Reflections

If you find a part of the river that's still, use the water as your canvas and shoot what's reflected on the surface. This works particularly well at this time of year with the golden colours of Autumn shining off the streams.

Get Up High

Rivers in valleys give you the chance to take a step back and climb a hill to get a bird's eye view of the river as it meanders through the landscape. If there's some late evening or morning mist around even better as this will add an air of mysticism to your image. Mist works well back on the banks too, particularly if you use a slow shutter speed to make the mist look like it's pouring into the river.

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kevinx 10 United Kingdom
29 Sep 2012 8:38AM
"Get heigh"??! :-(
chrissp26 15 39 United Kingdom
30 Sep 2012 3:50PM

Quote:"Get heigh"??! :-(

lol in the world of word processors etc..
joshwa Plus
8 881 United Kingdom
1 Oct 2012 8:32AM
Corrected, thanks.

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