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The Effect of Shutter Speed on the Appearance of Flowing Water
Test 1:   2.5 sec 〜 1/60 sec
Animatable — slowly sweep mouse from side to side to view different shutter speeds
写真の上をマウスであちこちにゆっくり動かすといろいろな露出時間影響を見えます。

I posted some water-flow pics the other day in “A Drenched Visit to the Kuuya-Taki Waterfall(空也滝), taken during an outing in which I'd hoped to miss the rain, but found a rare Kyoto thunderstorm. Since I had my tripod with me, I did some tests on the effect of shutter speed on the feeling of water flow.

Swabbing the mouse from side to side over the image above (and all the images below) causes different frames of each test set to come up, with the shutter speed in seconds showing in the lower right.

I would have liked to have all tests done with every major shutter-speed increment between 30 seconds and 1/500th of a second, but I guess I was just too miserable in the downpour to think that far ahead, and so the collection is rather haphazard. I'll have to go back on a nicer day with stronger focus.

Still, I made the tests, and they're at least partially useful, so here we are.

Test 2:   0.4 sec 〜 1/250 sec
Animatable — slowly sweep mouse from side to side to view different shutter speeds
写真の上をマウスであちこちにゆっくり動かすといろいろな露出時間影響を見えます。
Test 3:   1.3 sec 〜 1/125 sec
Animatable — slowly sweep mouse from side to side to view different shutter speeds
写真の上をマウスであちこちにゆっくり動かすといろいろな露出時間影響を見えます。
Test 4:   10 sec 〜 1/125 sec
Animatable — slowly sweep mouse from side to side to view different shutter speeds
写真の上をマウスであちこちにゆっくり動かすといろいろな露出時間影響を見えます。
Test 5:   2.5 sec 〜 1/13 sec
Animatable — slowly sweep mouse from side to side to view different shutter speeds
写真の上をマウスであちこちにゆっくり動かすといろいろな露出時間影響を見えます。

The stick is not in the 2.5-second shot because it's the last photo in the set that I took (though it appears first when sorted by shutter length), and apparently it's at that point in the set that I decided it was worth it to climb down and get rid of the ugly stick. So, it doesn't appear in the next set, nor in the set that leads this post, which I photographed after this set.

Test 6:   1/5 sec 〜 1/200 sec
Animatable — slowly sweep mouse from side to side to view different shutter speeds
写真の上をマウスであちこちにゆっくり動かすといろいろな露出時間影響を見えます。
Test 7:   20 sec 〜 1/100 sec
(for some reason all at different apertures)
Animatable — slowly sweep mouse from side to side to view different shutter speeds
写真の上をマウスであちこちにゆっくり動かすといろいろな露出時間影響を見えます。
Test 8:   8 sec 〜 1/15 sec
Animatable — slowly sweep mouse from side to side to view different shutter speeds
写真の上をマウスであちこちにゆっくり動かすといろいろな露出時間影響を見えます。
Test 9:   5 sec 〜 1/20 sec
Animatable — slowly sweep mouse from side to side to view different shutter speeds
写真の上をマウスであちこちにゆっくり動かすといろいろな露出時間影響を見えます。

The “flow” effect is directly related to the relative movement across the frame during the exposure, so distance from the camera and water speed play as direct a role as the shutter speed. Next time I go I'll have to try the same scene from different distances (or with different zooms) to help bring those important factors under the umbrella of “experience”....


Comments so far....

Very interesting exposures. Thanks for taking the time to post the results of your experiments. There is a waterfall at a nearby botanical garden that your work inspires me to try and capture. This waterfall is in a dark enough area that a slow shutter speed should be workable.

— comment by Tom in SF on July 7th, 2013 at 11:56pm JST (1 year, 4 months ago) comment permalink

This is great. I was just assembling very similar animations for a presentation on “moving water” that I am slated to give at a photo club next week. Funny how these things come together and coincidences appear more than coincidence. Nicely done.

— comment by Jao on July 8th, 2013 at 2:30am JST (1 year, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Very interesting. I’ve not been as systematic as you have but I like to see the flow lines in the white water. I think they provide more visual interesting texture in flowing water than the very long exposures that create a soft cloud look with no texture. Typically, 1/4 to 3/4 sec is enough to show motion and still preserve the internal structure of the flow. But as you point out, it also depends on the speed of the water and distance from the camera.

— comment by Werner Gansz on July 8th, 2013 at 11:47am JST (1 year, 4 months ago) comment permalink

I love the way you created the “animatable” images to easily see the differences between each of the different shutter speeds you tested. Very well done!

— comment by Trevor Dayley on July 9th, 2013 at 12:19pm JST (1 year, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Having commented on a previous stream/waterfall shot, I think Werner puts it well, but the only thing clear is just how subjective it is. I am afraid that, for me, it is shutter speeds in the range 1/15 to 1/30 that best convey the splash and movement of the water, in these shots, but I begin to realise that I am out on a limb here! Animating these shots was an excellent idea and the results quite thought-provoking and entertaining, thanks.

It looks a delightful retreat for a warm day.

— comment by Peter in Wales on July 12th, 2013 at 6:38pm JST (1 year, 4 months ago) comment permalink

ウエブならではの表現の仕方ですね。1枚の静止画を選択しなけらばならないときにとても役に立ちますね。

有り難うございます。そうですね。インターネットなら道具箱は広げるね。—ジェフリー

— comment by uozumigentu on July 13th, 2013 at 9:37am JST (1 year, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Really enjoy visiting from time to time your wonderful web page Hi from Mexico, right in the center of it Celaya , Gto.

Alfredo Sayeg

— comment by Anonymous on July 20th, 2013 at 3:54am JST (1 year, 3 months ago) comment permalink

Hi Jeffrey – This is fantastic! Thanks for doing this. This will help me illustrate to my wife what she has to do in order to do that “cool water effect” that she often asks about.

The problem she has understanding who her shots are sometimes over exposed due to a long exposure. Would you be able to illustrate what happens when you prolong the duration of the shutter without compensating – say the ISO? A series of shots with different shutter speeds at constant ISO of 600, for example. Then the same series/shutter speeds with decreasing ISO to compensate.

Well, there’s a triangle of inter-related components to the exposure: ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. To maintain a proper exposure, when adjusting one you have to adjust one or both of the others in kind. Not doing that would cause the exposure to go wrong: in this case, increasing the shutter speed without changing the ISO or the aperture would cause each shot to be more and more overexposed. —Jeffrey

— comment by Nathan on August 1st, 2013 at 12:02am JST (1 year, 3 months ago) comment permalink

From Australia – what I get from this interesting and beautifully presented series is that the optimum speed (to my taste) depends on the individual shot. I have also found, in my own experiments, that a bit of selective highlight recovery on the water can be helpful.

— comment by Ken Cameron on September 19th, 2013 at 3:31pm JST (1 year, 1 month ago) comment permalink

Jeffrey – I understand the interrelatedness of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. I have difficulty explaining it to people without examples of what happens when someone does NOT adjust accordingly. I think that’s what I was ultimately asking for – examples of what happens when you do it wrong! Much easier to demonstrate to people when there are examples. I suppose I could create my own examples, but I don’t know how to do the mouseover animations that you do.

Perhaps this post on over/under exposure might serve the purpose? —Jeffrey

— comment by Nathan on September 20th, 2013 at 1:12am JST (1 year, 1 month ago) comment permalink

It is interesting that I find in almost all cases the 1/30s shots as most realistic, close to what I remember seeing in person (from other rivers). Longer exposures appear to me as blurry and unnatural, while shorter ones don’t look natural because the blurriness disappears completely.

— comment by Olaf on January 11th, 2014 at 9:16pm JST (9 months, 21 days ago) comment permalink

I’ve always wanted to see the effects of shutter speed on flowing water. You have captured it so well! Great job!

— comment by Mixay on February 19th, 2014 at 4:11pm JST (8 months, 10 days ago) comment permalink
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