Photographing Water - Solid, Liquid and Gas

by Sheen Watkins

Photographing water as a primary subject or as part of the story offers limitless, creative opportunities. Roughly 72% of the earth is covered in water. Our physical, human bodies consist of about 60% water. Water is both vital for our survival and beautiful to the eyes.

The three three states of matter – solid, liquid and gas apply to water. They all look so different that we may not even think about the fact we are simply photographing water. Understanding conditions that create the various states combined with ideas for inspiration will help us take advantage of water’s diverse beauty.

Each of the states produces properties that work as a framing backdrop or main subject.

WATER – ATMOSPHERE

How many time’s have you said, “I’m going to go photograph some gas today?” Probably not often. Water in a gaseous state is identified with steam.

Where to find steam? Anywhere there’s a stove with water to boil, a hot cup of joe, a natural forming hot spring, refineries and steam trains. Water turns out steam when it reaches 212 degrees Fahrenheit.

Steam trains bring history and a hint of melancholy. The lines and curves of heavy steel and forged metals gleam through the steam. Peter Drach’s isolation of the color red in post processing with the use of black adds the vintage perspective to the image.

Photographing Water - Solid, Liquid and Gas

Peter Drach (aka PeteDragomir) / CC BY 2.0

Optimize the appearance of steam both indoors and out by the use of backlighting or side-lighting with a contrasting, darker background.

Landscape Legend Lightroom Presets: Save time and get amazing results with our presets! Landscape Legend is the most comprehensive collection of Lightroom presets specifically created for landscape and nature photos. On Sale Now!

WATER – MIST and FOG

We see natural forming mist which looks like steam hovering over ponds, streams or damp, dewy fields. Mist or fog floats as water condenses and collects in the form of tiny water droplets that remain suspended in the atmosphere.

While mist and fog are used interchangeably, there are differences. The density of fog and mist are different. The visibility in mist is greater than fog which is more dense.

The snow monkeys in the mist with their bright colorful faces almost look human. When photographing in a zoo, the subjects are not going to go very far. This provides extra time to inspect your images during shooting time to avoid the hand of man in the background.

Photographing Water - Solid, Liquid and Gas

Chi Tranter / CC BY 2.0

Conditions for natural forming mist can occur when the air is cooler than the earth. When this happens, it’s common to see mist hovering over low orchard fields, ponds and streams.

In my home state of Michigan, the evening air in August and September begins to cool. I plan to arrive at my destination before sunrise. This ensures that the backlit, misty fields can be photographed as the density dissipates with the rising sun. Be prepared as the evaporation process happens quickly.

The layer of fog was taken as it was lifting with the sunrise. The blanket was initially very thick. This photo illustrates how the fog lifted and evaporated as the sun elevated above the tree line.

Photographing Water - Solid, Liquid and Gas

by Sheen Watkins

Fog and mist photographed with shorter shutter speeds will have more texture. The longer the shutter speed the smoother the fog.

When post processing your images and the mist/fog is not quite as dramatic as you were expecting, try processing in black and white. Push the clarity and contrast sliders to the far right to maximize texture and then all the way to the left to soften the appearance.

Photographing Water - Solid, Liquid and Gas

by Sheen Watkins

Safety Tip: when watching the weather to go photograph fog, take the necessary precautions with driving plans. Photographing fog over water, mountains is relatively safe. Driving through fog can be very dangerous.

HDR Hero Lightroom Presets: Get amazing HDR effects instantly with any photo! On Sale Now!

→ Related reading: How to Photograph Mist and Fog

WATER – SOLID STATES

Water in a solid state has many different appearances. Clear ice, colored ice, ice in a glass, icicles, snow and ice formations are examples. In solid sates, water can show itself in many textures, densities and formations.

The image below was taken on the winter beach of Lake Michigan. It doesn’t really look like a beach in the traditional sense. The ice shelf also had a small ice cave with stalactites. A super-wide angle lens provided an up-close look to the icicles that looked like the ‘teeth’ of the cave.

Photographing Water - Solid, Liquid and Gas

by Sheen Watkins

The black and white, along with heavy usage of the clarity and contrast sliders in Lightroom CC accentuated the harshness of the ice.

Ice in a solid state, such as the ice shard below was taken with a macro lens. The image worked well in both color and black and white. In the end, I chose the black and white due to the silver-like tones.

→ Related reading: Winter Landscape Photography Tips

Photographing Water - Solid, Liquid and Gas

by Sheen Watkins

WATER – LIQUID STATES

Water gleams, glistens and sparkles. Droplets on a spider web look like jewels in the morning light. When photographing in the early hours or low light conditions, a tripod and shutter release is recommended. These tools help provide sharp, sharp images. Take advantage of the camera’s LCD screen to inspect the overall composition too.

Photographing Water - Solid, Liquid and Gas

by Sheen Watkins

Water can also mirror the soul and color of nature. The Smoky Mountains in October are filled with a bevy of rich hues and bright tones. Isolating the reflections provides an abstract image of fall’s foliage.

Photographing Water - Solid, Liquid and Gas

by Sheen Watkins

→ Related reading: Water Photography: Composition & Creativity Ideas

Water is one of our most precious natural resources. In any state, there are no limitations to the vast creativity that you as the photographer can capture and process as your own work of art.

Photo license link: CC BY 2.0

Travel Lightroom Presets