Each winter I count the months and days until I will be able to return to the rivers and shoot with some green around the water. I enjoy shooting flowing rivers any time but my favorite is when the trees have that “electric” green look. Shooting rivers is the perfect exercise in technique and composition. Using the natural curves of a river can lead the viewer through your frame.
Here are a few tips to help you get that perfect river or waterfall image. Contrast can be an image maker or breaker. The best time to shoot flowing water is on a low contrast day whether it is a result of an overcast day or even just after a rain or drizzle. I prefer to use a wide angle lens when shooting because of the ability to decompress the scene and include a foreground object to grab the viewer and pull them into your image. A must for me is sharpness and clarity so the logical choice for me is the Tamron SP 24-70mm f2.8 Di VC USD lens. It allows me to jam it into the foreground and still get the sharpness I need in the background at f16 or so. The other advantage to shooting in low contrast is that you are able to shoot at f11 or f16 and still get a shutter speed of 1 second or slower to give the water a soft flowing look. A crucial accessory that is needed to perfect the image is a high quality circular polarizer. The polarizer is going to eliminate glare from foliage and the rocks around the river while adding some contrast to the scene to make the compositional elements stand out more.
Another reason I like the Tamron SP 24-70mm lens is the construction of the lens will help to keep any minor moisture out of the lens. I typically will cover the camera and lens with a shower cap as I am moving around setting up my compositions but for the time it is uncovered and capturing the image I know the lens is safe from the elements. The lens comes standard with a lens shade so in addition to reducing any glare coming in from the side, it will also keep any moisture from hitting the front of the polarizer.
Another necessity is a tripod when dealing with shutter speeds of 1 second or slower. When I do this I will turn off the VC (Vibration Compensation) in order to reduce shake that would be created using this feature when the lens is on a tripod. My tripod of choice is the Vanguard Abeo or Alta Pro tripod. I have used this tripod in extremely awkward positions, often while standing in knee or waist deep water. The tripod legs will go to ground level independently and I will often have two legs resting on a wall or rock almost making the setup a right angle!
I prefer to shoot at slow shutter speeds as a personal choice to create the mood I desire in the image. In order to pre-visualize the effect of the slow shutter speeds I will squint. This makes the flow apparent to a minor extent. Shooting waterfalls is usually done from an obvious point but when photographing rivers I will try and find some area that has nice “C” or “S” curves in the river. I will also look for objects such as flowers or ferns to place into the foreground. Many cameras will only go to ISO 200 by default but often will allow you to go to lower ISO settings often referred to as L1 or L3.
With the spring thaws and the lush greens emerging along the rivers, it is the perfect time to get the gear out and go shoot some rivers and waterfalls. April and May are my favorite months for the new growth and you will find me in the woods often!