Tutorial: How to make long exposures of water to achieve silk effect

This article is intended for those who take photos with mobiles and cameras. You will see how easy it is to get these beautiful effects of water.

Long exposures of water with camera

What will you need for a long exposure ?:

  • A camera with manual controls, it does not matter if it is reflex, compact, without a mirror. The important thing is the manual controls.
  • A stable tripod to be able to immobilize the camera.
  • Filters ND or neutral density, are glasses that adapt in front of the lens or lens glass. There is a whole range of glasses of lighter or darker. Because it is not the same to make a long exposure at noon (you would need a darker one) than at nightfall (lighter). There are also some that are adjustable, it is a cheaper option. But depending on the position of the glasses can produce moiré effects, appearing in the image as a central cross in some cases. A practical solution is a filter holder with the appropriate thread size to the mm of the filter holder of your lens, and to buy a set of interchangeable crystals.

How to proceed:

  • Choose a nice mountain place with waterfalls. You can also get interesting results in coastal areas. The important thing is that we have natural static elements of the environment that interact with the water in movement.
  • Secure the camera to the tripod.
  • We compose the scene, try to follow the rule of thirds, centering things can be very boring. For example, if it is a beautiful waterfall sit on one side, that the image shows the environment, that breathes around the main reason we are going to photograph.
  • We focus the scene well and if we can block that approach before putting the filter. Then it would be very difficult to focus.
  • We put the ND filter that we have, remember darker for lights of measured day, or less dense for sunsets.
  • We close the opening, as much as the objective or lens allows, this would be to place it at f22. With this we close the passage of the light that enters the objective. This will allow you to play with exposure times without the photo being burned or overexposed.
  • For a silk effect with detail, I do not recommend an exposure time of many seconds. Well you will lose the movement of water, play between 1 and 2 seconds, everything depends on what you want to achieve.
  • Depending on the exposure time, we will regulate the ISO so that the image does not remain dark, but neither burned or overexposed. Today we are lucky to see the result of how the photo will look before shooting on the screen or viewer, but do not trust yourself.
  • Although we have on the screen the indicators of whether we are facing a well exposed image, I recommend taking two or more steps down. For this, we will have to lower our ISO more. Why do I recommend underexposing the image ?. Because if the sun is hitting the water directly, it would burn you out. To prevent that from happening, you will lose the textures of the water and there is nothing more ugly than a long exposure with overexposed water.
  • Shoot in RAW, because when shooting with filters we will have some dark areas to retrieve the information later.

How to edit the result:

  • Now is when we download the RAW to our computer.
  • We open the program that we have to reveal RAW, be it the Camera Raw or another, I use Lightroom.
  • Here what is in charge is water, we are going to raise the exhibition to give clarity without overexposure. Do not burn the water !.
  • Once with the luminous water to our liking, if we see the dark environment, we will raise the value of shadows to recover information from the environment.
  • If after this, we see that the water has lost texture and volume, lowers the highlights a little, not much to avoid appearing an HDR image. The Clarity effect also rises a little, so the water will gain a bit of texture and recover movement.

And with it we will have our long exposure of water, beautiful and without losing any detail !. You will tell me your results.

Long exposures of water with mobile

What will you need for a long exposure ?:

  • A tripod with mobile adapter.
  • A mobile, it does not matter if it’s Android or iPhone.
  • An app that allows photos with silk effect. For example in iPhone from the model 6s allows taking photos in Live mode (those that when pressing we see movement). If you do not have this option in your terminal, there is an app that I used before called Average Cam, also Long Expo Pro, for Android there are also options, search for ‘long expo’ and you will get options like Snail Camera Pro
  • There are ND filters for mobile phones, normally attached with a clip or clip. Read above my little explanation of the filters. Although with the mobile you may not need it.

How to proceed:

  • Choose a nice mountain place with waterfalls. You can also get interesting results in coastal areas. The important thing is that we have natural static elements of the environment that interact with the water in movement.
  • We secure the phone to the tripod. Although the app tells you that it is not necessary !. We seek the highest quality without any movement.
  • We put the ND filter or not.
  • If your mobile allows totally manual controls, see the instructions in the section for cameras.
  • With your finger on the screen we focus on the moving water until we block the focus.
  • With the control of the locked focus, you can lower the exposure with the controls that usually go to the right of the focus control. In that way we avoid that the water burns
  • If your mobile or app allows shooting in RAW, do it, you will always have more control of later editing.

How to edit the result:

  • If you took the photo in Live mode with the native iPhone app, when you open the photo on the reel and slide your finger up, you will see a menu with different options, one of which is a long exposure.
  • If you did the photo with an app on both Android and iPhone, use the editing programs you normally use, although the rules that I exempt you in the section of camera will also serve you to edit.

I hope that with this article you get some nice photos and share them in the comments so that we can all see your results.


• Instagram > @juanjofuster
Nature & Photo Blogger from Catalonia

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