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Blurring Water

Several people, not just here on RedBubble, have asked me how do I get the blurred effect on rushing water. This is not a difficult technique at all. It just requires a couple of pieces of equipment you may already have.

To start, you need a tripod and cable release (or self-timer). Next, a polarizer and neutral density filter. What’s a neutral density (ND) filter? It’s a simple piece of glass that reduces the amount of light passing through it. It does not affect the color of your image. You can use a screw-on filter or the square Lee filter types. The preference is up to you. My ND filter is a ND 0.9 which reduces the amount of light by 3 stops. A polarizer typically reduces the amount of light by 2 – 2.5 stops. Also, rotate your polarizer to get the effect you want as you typically do in any other type of outdoor image.

Mount these on your lens, set up your tripod and camera, and you’re almost ready to go. Adjust your composition (always important!). Stop down the lens. Most of my landscape photography is done using Aperture priority. I stop the lens down as far as it will go, typically f22 or f32. I also set the ISO to its lowest setting. On my Nikon D300, this is the LO1 setting – ISO 100.

You’re ready to take your image. In bright sunlight however, you may see a shutter speed setting of around 1/8 second. This can create a blurring effect but probably not what you are looking for. What to do? Get a stronger ND filter or pray for a cloud (I do, and it works). Now we’re getting down to the 2 second+ range. If you find a small cascade of water in a nice dark area you can exposures of 10 or more seconds. Don’t forget to prevent light from entering the viewfinder on long exposures as this can affect your exposure.

This technique works on waterfalls, rapids, cascades, and fountains. Try it on a fountain in the evening. You’ll love the result.

Happy shooting!

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Techniques used to blur water.


  • Jay Ryser
    Jay Ryserabout 6 years ago

    Excellent advice, Gary

  • Stzar
    Stzarabout 6 years ago

    excellent tutorial Gary ~ wonderfully written work

  • Gary Lengyel
    Gary Lengyelabout 6 years ago

    Thanks. And one thing – if your camera has mirror lock up, use it.

  • Ed Moore
    Ed Mooreabout 6 years ago

    Hey Gary…This is a great explaination. One of the best I’ve read. Thank you very much.

  • Lynette Higgs
    Lynette Higgsalmost 6 years ago

    Fantastic tutorial, Thanks ; D

  • John Vandeven
    John Vandevenalmost 6 years ago

    Thanks heaps Gary.
    Can’t wait to try it.

  • Barbara Burkhardt
    Barbara Burkhardtover 5 years ago

    NOW I get it. I would only attempt slow water in low light but now I’ve got the goods on full sun application thanks to you. REALLY good inofo thanks Gary.

  • Scott  d'Almeida
    Scott d'Almeidaabout 5 years ago

    thanks wonderful advice cheers,

  • Joseph T. Meirose IV
    Joseph T. Meir...over 3 years ago

    Thanks for the tips, cheers!

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