05.15.16: Rushing water

Water rushes past rocks in a stream in Highbanks Metro Park, Lewis Center, Ohio. 


Technical information

July 22, 2006,
11:08 a.m.

40°9’7” N,
83°2'9" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 20D

Canon EF 28-135 f/3.5-5.6


0.5 second


There are a number of streams in parks near my home in Central Ohio. Most of the year these streams carry little more than a trickle of water, making them a nice feature to include in a landscape photograph but of little interest as the primary subject for a photo.

That changes after a heavy rain, when rushing water fills (and sometimes overfills) the streams. That’s when the local streams become photogenic.

I grabbed this photo on a visit to Highbanks Metro Park north of Columbus, Ohio, the morning after a very heavy rain hit the area. All the streams in the park were filled with rushing water, but this stream caught my attention because of the placement of the rocks.

Rocks or other stationary objects are vital elements in a “rushing water” photograph. Without the stationary objects, a photo of rushing water just shows rushing water … visually boring. The stationary objects provide a focal point that contrasts with the blur of the water, enhancing the sense of motion by remaining static.

In this scene, the placement of the rocks forced the flowing water to change directions, creating multiple white-water rapids that add another layer of contrast: the stationary rocks, the smooth-flowing dark water and the fast-flowing white water.

Capturing the motion of water requires a long exposure. Using a short exposure freezes the flow, making both the rocks and the water stationary. But using too long of an exposure captures so much motion that the water takes on an overly smooth look, almost like cotton candy. The challenge is to capture the flow of the water while retaining detail in the flow.

For this scene, I placed the camera on a low tripod to keep it stable, then captured several shots across a range of shutter speeds. The photo I selected had a half-second exposure, long enough to capture the blur of the fast-flowing rapids but still short enough to keep some detail in the slower-flowing areas. I set the aperture to f/9 to increase the depth of field, maintaining detail in the string of rocks across the scene.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.