How To Get Smooth, Silky Water - Cindee Reeder Photography

Nikon D600, 24-700mm F/2.8, 24mm, 2 seconds, F/11, ISO 100, Circular Polarizer Filter

How To Get Silky Smooth Water

I get a lot of questions about how I make the water look so silky smooth.  Every camera is different and attached with a different lens, but I find if I have a beginning recipe I can tweak it for my particular setup.  This is just a basic recipe.  


A tripod is a must for this.  However, does it really have to be a tripod?  No!  Anything that you can put your camera on so it is sitting completely still will work.  I have used a rock, log, fence post, the top of my car, even the ground.  Just get the camera still.  I have friends say to me, "all I have is a crappy tripod".  I ask them, "Does it fit your camera?" "Does it hold your camera still?"  "Does the tripod do what its intended purpose is for?"  It really doesn't matter how expensive your tripod is if it does what it is suppose to do.


Any camera will do, even point and shoots, but you have to be able to take control by putting the camera in manual or aperture mode.  

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is how you get the smooth, silky water, but your recipe will fail without all the other ingredients as well.  You're going to need a slow shutter speed.  This keeps your shutter open longer while the water is flowing past, rather than a fast shutter speed where it would stop the action in a split second.  I like mine to be slower than 1/10th.  The picture above was shot at 2 seconds.  Faster moving water doesn't require as slow of a shutter speed as a slow moving creek would.

Lighting Conditions

It is best to shoot during the early mornings, late evenings or when there is cloud cover.  Set your ISO to its lowest setting 50 or 100.


If there is too much light think of adding a Circular Polarizing filter which will cut 1 to 1 1/2 stops of light and it also removes the glare of the water and can enhance the sky or a Neutral Density Filter.  These can be purchased in how many stops they give you 2,3,4...


I set mine anywhere between F/11 to F/22 or higher if my lens allows for that.  This also helps cut down the light for a longer exposure.


When I'm shooting water, I'm in the water, crossing creeks, perched on a rock in the middle of a river and always in a slippery situation.  Be careful when you're out there.  Camera equipment is expensive and so is your health.  

Remote Shutter Release

Sometimes by simply pushing down on the shutter button you can cause camera shake and it can be seen in these long exposures.  Simply by getting a remote shutter release can eliminate this or use the camera's timer.

I hope this recipe helps you.  It has helped me.  I typically start with the above settings and pay attention to my meter to determine what tweaks I need to make.  I always make adjustments to the recipe, because no situation is ever the same.  Good luck!

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