Water Photography Tips: How to Get That Soft Misty Effect

The secret to getting that smooth effect in water photography lies in long exposure times.

What Gear Do You Need

  • Tripod – holding the camera steady for long exposures is essential.
  • Camera - keep in mind that you will have to fit filters or holders onto the lens and be able to expose manually.
  • Remote Release Shutter to release the shutter without shaking the camera
  • CPL filter (circular polarising filter) to remove reflections from non-metallic surfaces and saturate some colours.
  • ND Filters – the most important accessory for long exposure photography. Equally important is to have filters of excellent quality. This will reduce the chances for diffraction or colour-casting.
    Solid ND filters (slot-in or screw-in) are described by the amount of light they cut out For example
    ___ 4 stops (ND16) for long exposures in lower light at sunset
    ___ 6 Stops (ND64) for long exposures on an overcast day
    ___ 10 Stops (ND1000) for long exposures during the day
  • Check out our ND filters

Variable ND filters are a single solid ND filter that rotates allowing you to “dial-in” the number of stops of light to block out.

Graduated ND filters slot into a holder and are used to help balance bright skies in landscape photography, these filters are available in both hard and soft graduations. Check out our Benro long exposure kit (pictured).


  • Find the river, waterfall, waves, etc that you wish to photograph.
  • Try to find the most interesting point of view of your scene
  • Look at the light – it’s direction, how much it can or cannot illuminate the scene you have chosen, how the shadows will fall and how they will influence the scene.
  • Pick up your camera and start framing some of the scenes you have found. Find the one that works best
  • Set up your sturdy tripod and camera and adjust the camera settings. To achieve the silky and blurry effect of the water set your camera to Manual Exposure Mode.
  • Start with a shutter speed of at least ½ of a second, aperture between f/11 and f/16, and ISO as low as possible
  • Focus and take some test shots.

Add a Polarising filter (CPL)

  • A CPL will remove any type of reflection – from the water as well as shine from the tree leaves and grass.
  • Focus then rotate the polariser to remove any reflections.
  • Note -  the polarising filter removes almost 1 stop of light from your lens.

Add a light blocking filter

  • If you still need a slower shutter speed to soften the water then add an ND filter. They are designed to reduce the light without adding a colour cast (hence “neutral”)
  • Add them last as the camera will no longer be able to focus once the light is reduced

Capture the shot

  • Use the remote shutter release and capture your photo. Use the self timer if you don't have a remote shutter release.
  • Analyse your picture and adjust the exposure if needed

We'd love to see you.

visit our store