I often get asked, how do you get that “dreamy” look in your waterfall and stream photos? Well, the dreamy look or movement in the water is caused by a slower shutter speed making the camera pick up any movement in the shot. Of course the water is moving so hence, the silky water or dreamy look.
You need to start with a good sturdy tripod and a camera with manual settings so that you can adjust the shutter speed and aperture. Next, pick a day when it is either overcast, late in the day or early in the morning so that you don’t have harsh splotchy sunlight overhead ruining the shot. In this example photo, the sun was already down behind a nearby mountain so that there were no shadows or bright spots to deal with. Also, be sure that it is not a particularly windy day since your camera will also pick up movement in the surrounding vegetation.
For this picture I used a Nikon D610; 24mm f/1.4 lens set at f/11; shutter speed of 3 seconds; a polarizing filter to soften any glare and darken the shot so that I could use a longer shutter opening; ISO of 100. I typically use f/11 for most landscapes in order to capture the entire image in focus from foreground to background. It also helps reduce the light entering the lens so that you can again, get a longer shutter opening, which increases the moving water effect. Some people will use a neutral density filter, which further darkens the shot to allow for a longer shutter opening. It was late enough in the day so that I did not have to do that for this one. For all of my landscape shots on a tripod, I use a remote shutter release to avoid any camera shake.
I took numerous shots, as I normally do at different exposures, varying the shutter speed slightly but leaving the aperture and ISO constant and ended up choosing this one for processing.
I always shoot in RAW so that I have the most digital data available with which to work. I processed the photo in Adobe Camera Raw adjusting the highlights, shadows, adding some vibrance so that the leaves popped, added some highlights to the water, did some lens correction, sharpened a bit and that’s about it. It usually takes me less than 5 minutes to process a photo.
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