How to Get the Silky Effect in Your Photographs of Rivers?

In the 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 its colors and reflections awaken endless feelings in all those who stop to observe them. Including this type of element in the compositions is usually very common, so 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? Achieving a silky effect in the water! And if you want to go deeper into landscape photography, you cannot miss the mega guide that we have prepared for you with tips, tricks and much more to achieve the most impressive landscapes.

The silky effect in the water

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

This effect will make your landscape photos 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 is possible to capture in a photograph, that is, it is not a phenomenon that occurs by itself in nature. And, secondly, because it manages to transmit serenity and fluidity to the viewer. Keep in mind that conveying 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 photos, you can’t stop experimenting with this photographic technique (many more techniques in the link) and even less, after you see how easy it is to put into practice.

The technique to achieve the silky effect

As I have 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 your camera allows light to reach the shutter, the smoother the lines moving water will draw on your photo. This is the main principle that governs this effect: long exposure. If you are not clear about what it is, I recommend that you read that article before continuing reading this one. It will take you a few minutes and will help you better understand how to best achieve this effect. Before you venture deep into a forest in search of a mind-blowing waterfall, make sure your camera allows you to set shutter speeds slow enough: 30 seconds or Bulb mode, which is the mode in which the camera will continue to expose (letting in light to the sensor) until you release the shutter.
  • Dim ambient light: that is, the lighting present in the scene needs to be rather uniform and weak, otherwise it will be more difficult for you 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 that is stable enough to guarantee that, throughout the entire shot, the camera does not suffer from movements or vibrations that could ruin the entire shot. Properly mounting a tripod or holding your camera firmly becomes a fundamental factor in this type of technique or effect if what you want is to achieve sharp and well-defined photographs. And if you are looking for one, in this guide we help you find the best tripod for you.
  • The place: Surely you have already 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 movement of the water is notorious. But be careful, although the water can be your protagonist, do not forget to carefully work your backgrounds in order to give it a suitable frame so that the viewer feels inside the shot. And, as obvious as it sounds, in landscape and nature photography, location is everything, or almost. Before shooting your camera, take some time to review the entire scene, review all possible angles and frames, in order to exhaust the possibilities of it before putting your camera to work.

Now, you won’t always be able to take your pictures 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 filter

Neutral density or ND filters are an accessory that cannot be missing from your backpack if you want to achieve 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 filter is excellent for when, in good lighting conditions, you want to take 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 in order to compensate for the “excess” of light produced. of a long exposure, as the filter will prevent the photo from being overexposed.

As I told you in the article: “8 Ways to Improve Your Photos Thanks to a Filter”:

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

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

Watch out: By allowing less light to enter the sensor, it is very likely that your camera’s autofocus will stop responding. I recommend that you manually focus the scene and then add the neutral density or ND filter to it.

Haven’t you got one yet? Don’t worry, you don’t have to spend a fortune on a neutral density filter to start testing. 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 is possible with a professional filter, you will be able to get amazing results.
You do not believe me? Take a good look at the following photo, it was made with one of these glasses:

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

How to achieve the silky effect step by step

You have already seen what are the main aspects and elements necessary to be able 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 you can set the perfect focus and frame for the shot. (Remember that the ND filter very significantly reduces the light that enters the sensor, preventing the camera from focusing by itself and you from seeing something through the viewfinder).
  2. Walk around the scene and set up your tripod or place your camera on a firm, stable spot so that the chances of vibration ruining your shot are minimized.
  3. Mount the camera on your tripod. (This step can be done before or after you have 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 metering and exposure. Take a look at the following article: “Detailed Guide: How to Make a Correct Measurement and Exposure in Your Photographs”.
  5. Once everything is in place, place the filters that are necessary, whether they are neutral density, polarizing, etc.
  6. Adjusts the shutter speed to compensate for the lack of light caused by using 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 release, so that when you press the shutter button you do not inadvertently end up moving the camera.
  8. Once the shooting time has elapsed (note that if you have the noise reduction option activated, this step will take almost twice as long), check the resulting photograph.

If any adjustments need to be made, start the whole process over again until you get the perfect shot.

6 tips to achieve the best silky effect:

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 this type of photography and the semi-automatic modes will not allow you to get the most out of your camera as if you were using the manual mode. Learn to master the Manual Mode with this mega guide that we have prepared for you, so that you lose your fear and be the master of your photographs without leaving anything to chance.
  2. Keep the crystals clean: Whether it’s the lenses of your objective or the filters that you are going to place 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 brands in the optics are not only responsible for the loss of quality of your photographs. Dust and particles also tend to accumulate on 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. Try teleconverters: These accessories, although they can increase the focal length of a given lens, at the same time, they also considerably reduce the light that reaches the sensor. If you don’t have a neutral density filter but you do have a teleconverter, go ahead and…