Monthly Archives: December 2013

Falling Water, a Moral Tale

I am somewhat obsessed with taking pictures of water. It's not a recent obsession and not an uncommon one (there are lots of Flickr groups about water). But it's interesting partly because it's hard and partly because the camera shows you things you can't otherwise see.

The techniques for photographing falling water in the studio are well understood (see 5 cool water drop photography ideas and 1 really simple set-up | Digital Camera World for instance). So naturally I want to wander out and take pictures of water falling from fountains. And I tend to forget that flash is a thing.

A few weeks ago I went to Stanford and took a lot of pictures of water in fountains there. In an hour or so I got a wet butt and a thousand pictures, of which three weren't terrible – but two of those were of pomegranates. About half my pictures were total garbage. Now, it's not unusual for me to take a thousand pictures and throw away half, but usually those are just boring or not the right exposure. Even for my trigger-happy digital habits, this is pathetic.

But it was pretty clear that some of the pictures could have been cool, so on Friday I took the lens that had worked best and a raincoat to the most useful fountain, and spent about half an hour taking 400 photos. 36 of them pleased me enough to post them to Flickr ( Now, some of this is the kind of optimism you get when a new kind of picture works — right now I'm OK with embracing the noise, which will wear off. But several of these are just lovely pictures.

So what changed? To start with, I learned what didn't work and what might. (My best results are autofocus, macro lens, high shutter speed and high f-stop and therefore high ISO.) I also discovered the bubbling effect. I thought I wanted falling water, and I kind of still do, but these bubbles are awfully pretty, so this time around I embraced them. Plus, the raincoat is key if you want to use a macro lens on a fountain. So all of those awful photographs really were getting me somewhere.

The top photo is a kind I learned about that first trip; these are ones I was aiming for then and missed, but made this time.