In landscape and nature photography, rivers, lagoons and waterfalls are usually excellent elements to include in your photographs. Its jumps and curves draw lines that guide the viewer through the photos while their colors and reflections arouse endless feelings to all those who stop to observe them.
Including this type of elements in the compositions is usually very common, so that, surprising the viewer becomes more complicated.

That is why in today’s article you will learn to break the mold and leave everyone with their mouths open.

How? Turning water into silk!


The “silk” effect, as shown in the photograph that illustrates this article, is that which makes the water present in a photograph acquire a soft and translucent texture, as if it were a foam or a silk that runs along the riverbed , go down a waterfall or break against the rocks on a beach.

This effect will make your landscape photographs more striking and spectacular. Why? In the first place, because it is a strange phenomenon that is not possible to appreciate by the human eye but that if it is possible to capture in a photograph, that is, it is not a phenomenon that presents itself in nature. And, in the second instance, because it manages to transmit serenity and fluidity to the viewer. Keep in mind that transmitting messages and feelings is much more difficult than it may seem and even more so, in nature photography.

If you want to get the most out of your photographs, you can’t stop experimenting with this technique and even less, after you see how easy it is to put into practice.

Very long exposure


As I just told you, getting rivers and waterfalls to acquire that particular silky texture is not complicated at all and only requires (in principle):

  • Low (slow) shutter speeds: that is, 30 seconds or more, depending on the “smoothness” you want to achieve. The longer the time your camera allows the light to reach the shutter, the softer the lines that the moving water will draw on your picture. This is the main principle that governs this effect: long exposure. If you are not sure about what it is, I recommend you read that article before continuing to read this. It will take you a few minutes and help you better understand how to achieve this effect better. Before launching deep into a forest in search of an amazing waterfall, make sure that your camera allows you to set sufficiently slow shutter speeds: 30 seconds or Bulb mode, which is the mode in which the camera will continue exposing (letting in light to sensor) until you release the shutter.
  • Dim ambient light: that is, it is necessary that the lighting present in the scene be rather uniform and weak otherwise it will be more difficult to compensate for the excess light with lower ISO sensitivities and closing the diaphragm to the maximum. Remember that between these three parameters (speed, diaphragm and sensitivity) what is known as the “exposure triangle” is formed. If you did not know the term or do not know the importance of making a correct measurement and exposure of your photographs, take a look at the following article: ” Detailed Guide: How to Make a Correct Measurement and Exposure in Your Photographs “.
  • Stability: that is, the use of a tripod or a surface stable enough to ensure that, throughout the entire shot, the camera does not suffer from movements or vibrations that can ruin the entire shot. Properly mounting a tripod or holding your camera firmly becomes a fundamental factor in this type of techniques or effects if you want to achieve sharp and well-defined photographs .
  • The place: surely you will have noticed but, this technique works much better in those situations where the water has movement, that is, it becomes much more spectacular as the flow or, the movement of the water is notorious. But be careful, although water can be your protagonist , do not forget to carefully work your funds so as to give it a favorable framework for the viewer to sit inside the shot. And, even if it sounds like something obvious, in landscape and nature photography, the place is everything, or almost. Before shooting your camera, take some time to review the entire scene, check all possible angles and frames, in order to exhaust the possibilities of this before putting your camera to work.

Now, you will not always be able to take your photographs in a dark forest or at sunset on a beach so that the ambient light is as dim as possible. For these cases there is an extremely useful accessory when taking long exposure photographs in situations where the light is much more intense than we would like: the ND or neutral density filter.


Neutral density filters or ND are an accessory that you can not miss in your backpack if you want to get the maximum silky effect in your river photographs.

Its operation is simple, these filters considerably reduce the amount of light that reaches the sensor without altering the colors present in the scene. This type of filters is excellent for when, in good lighting conditions, you want to make long exposures.

If it only reduces the “amount of light”, it means that, using one of these filters, it will not be necessary, or at least not always, to close the diaphragm of your camera to the maximum so as to compensate for the “excess” of product light of a long exposure, since the filter will prevent the photo from being exposed.

ND filters of different densities

As I mentioned in the article: “ 8 Ways to Improve Your Photographs Thanks to a Filter ”:

“I recommend that if you are going to do with one of these filters, you will acquire at least one of 3 diaphragms, since to subtract less light, with a polarizer it will be enough or by combining a polarizer with low ISO and well closed diaphragms.

The most frequent neutral density filters are 6, 8 and 10 diaphragms and the most recommended are those of glass since those of gelatin tend to reduce the quality of the photographs. ”

Caution: by allowing less light to enter the sensor, it is very likely that your camera’s autofocus stops responding. I recommend that you manually approach the scene and then add the neutral density filter or ND.

The water as a mist

Haven’t you done with one yet? Don’t worry, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on a neutral density filter to start your tests. Go to the nearest hardware store and buy the glass that is used to protect the eyes when welding. While you won’t get the quality that can be achieved with a professional filter, you can get amazing results.
You do not believe me? Look closely at the following photo, it was made with one of these glasses:

Homemade ND filter: uses a welder glass

With a little imagination you can manage to overcome all the obstacles that photography puts you. If not, take a look at the following article “ Bricofotografía: How to Mount Home Photographic Accessories ” and you will see how to do it in a very simple way.


You have already seen what are the main aspects and elements necessary to carry out this technique. Now it only remains to see how to order the entire process so that you can easily put it into practice:

  1. Remove the filters so that you can adjust the perfect focus and frame for the shot. (Remember that the ND filter significantly reduces the light entering the sensor preventing the camera from focusing on itself and you, visualize something through the viewfinder).
  2. Walk the scene and place the tripod or place the camera in a firm and stable place so that the chances of a vibration ruining your shot are minimized.
  3. Mount the camera on your tripod. (This step can be done before or after having adjusted the parameters for the shot).
  4. Adjust the aperture of the diaphragm according to the depth of field you want to achieve and looking for the best possible measurement and exposure. Check out the following article: ” Detailed Guide: How to Make a Correct Measurement and Exposure in Your Photographs “.
  5. Once everything is in place, place the necessary filters, whether neutral density, polarizers, etc.
  6. Adjust the shutter speed to compensate for the lack of light due to the use of a neutral density filter and closed apertures.
  7. Shoot! At this point it would be ideal to have an alternative way to shoot a photo : a remote shutter, so as to avoid that, when you press the shutter button, you involuntarily end up moving the camera.
  8. Once the time of the shot has been fulfilled (keep in mind that if you have activated the noise reduction option, this step will take almost twice as long), check the resulting photograph.

If any adjustment is necessary, start the whole process again until the perfect shot is taken.

Study the entire frame


Finally, here are some tips so you can get the most out of this spectacular technique to transform water into silk:

  1. Leave the automatic modes: as you can imagine, the automatic mode will be completely useless when taking these types of photographs and the semi-automatic modes will not allow you to get the most out of your camera as if you would use the manual mode. Be the master and lord of your photographs and leave nothing to chance.
  2. Keep the glasses clean: be it the lenses of your lens or the filters you are going to put in front of them, always try to keep them as clean as possible if you want to maximize the quality and sharpness of the resulting photographs.
  3. Keep the sensor clean: the marks on the optics are not only responsible for the loss of quality of your photographs. Dust and particles also usually accumulate in the sensor and, when working with very closed diaphragms, they will be very noticeable so keeping the sensor clean should also be a priority. How to clean it? Reading the following guide: ” The Complete Guide: Cleaning Tips for SLR Cameras “.
  4. Test with TV converters: these accessories, although they can increase the focal length of a certain lens, at the same time, they also considerably reduce the light that reaches the sensor. If you do not have a neutral density filter but you have a TV converter, please use it.
  5. Turn off noise reduction: if you want to save time between shots and shots, disable noise reduction from your camera. Why? As you will work with base ISOs, that is the minimum ISO sensitivity that your camera allows you, enabling this option can be redundant. Anyway, if you are patient, leave it active, after all it will only consume battery.
  6. Water is not everything: you can use this effect to direct the attention of the audience towards the water, or you can use it to add an extra element that enhances the sensations and messages that your photographs transmit.


The final result

What are you waiting for to turn water into silk?

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