Toy Photography: Magic with Water
One form of photography which never fails to grasp my attention has always been water shots. Using water in your photography can be a difficult task, especially when it seems the elements are always against you; the wind swooping in and knocking your set up over, or the strong currents that pull your miniatures down the stream... It can be heartbreaking to put in so much time and effort setting up, just to watch it all be taken from you as that blast of wind comes in to destroy it all!
So, I've decided to take some time to write up a little bit on some of the best and easiest ways to create shots using water, with an insight of techniques that have proved useful to me.
One of the hardest parts can be trying to find that perfect location, alongside having the patience to wait for the weather to be how you need it for whatever shot you have in mind. But, although we can't change the weather, we can change our location, which means at least half of the struggle is eliminated.
After many failures of trying to use locations that I thought would work best, I've come to realise the most important thing is shallow water. If the water is too deep then it's a given that your set up is sure to sink to the depths, and lets be honest, no one wants to spend an hour fishing for their figures back! I have found that the safest areas are shallow, still water, and for my style, I prefer the backdrop to be quite far back where I am able to create that wonderful bokeh or blurred effect that helps make the subject matter pop.
Keep in mind that if you want to use running water, maybe even use a long shutter speed to help create a smokey effect as the water rushes by, then you will want to spend a good amount of time setting up your figures and 'grounding' them. Make sure that any stands you use are heavy enough to keep the figures in place and save yourself an expedition running down the stream trying to gather everything back!
Additionally, if you find some deep water that you know will work perfectly then you're going to have to build from the ground up. Use something tall enough that you can stick into the ground that just about reaches the waters surface to use as a platform for your set up. (Be realistic though, I wouldn't suggest going to the middle of the ocean, because that might take you a while!)
If you're beginning your journey into the world of water photography, then it's always great to start off setting up in puddles! (I know, this sounds a little stingy, but hear me out...)
Using Puddles is a really quick and effective way to practice getting water shots and reflections. They're never normally too deep to set up, and the water tends to be still enough, if the weather is on your side, to help create a clean reflection. This will also allow you to fill the surroundings with items to help build your image; set up miniature trees, or maybe a miniature dolls house in the back. Here's one of my first ever puddle shots taken back in 2016...
One part of water shots that help create an impact is the reflection. By using still water you can capture amazingly strong reflections, whereas moving water will destroy any reflections, making them appear distorted. The latter is useful if you're looking to add some motion to your shots. Be aware of using stagnant water though. Stagnant water tends to be a body or pool of water which has been sat around for a long time, and you'll know about it because the smell is rather unpleasant! This type of water is dangerous as it can contain a lot of nasty bacteria and parasites, so although it may look like a great place for a shot, it may be best to steer clear...
As seen in the image below, the water was very slow moving, which has made the reflection appear more blurred. I like this effect when using boats in my images to help give a sense of motion and to create some realism.
Angles and Composition
To gain an effective reflection, be sure to take your image at ground level, scoping across the waters surface. Being ground level also helps give a sense of realism, as if the figures are part of the real world. This is what I find works best for me, but don't be scared to explore different angles with your set up to see which style fits your image best!
I have a love for wanting to fit the whole reflection in the shot, adding symmetry to the image, but sometimes this can take away from the main focus point if you are positioned too far away from your subject. If you want to make both the reflection and subject matter pop more then set up far away from your backdrop, and use a shallow aperture to eliminate any strong focus points in your background.
Once you're happy with your set up, look at moving your surroundings around to build up your image, and help create a realistic world. I tend to remove any large leaves or items that may look oversized or unrealistic in comparison to my set up, then move rocks around or use branches to mimic trees in set ups.
For example, in this image I didn't want to have the Guardian in the water, but merely give the effect that he is staring out over the lake, so, I placed him on top of a rock on the water, then filled the backdrop with leaves to help build on the location and add a pop of extra colour.
Essentials for Water Explorers
Before setting out to take your shots using that perfect location of water, make sure you're prepared! Whenever I go to take water photos I am always sure to wear my waterproof hiking boots. Every single time I've journeyed out to take shots like this there has been a 100% chance that I will need to sit in the water to get the angle I want. So, grab your wellies and waterproof trousers, leave your jeans or fancier clothes in your wardrobe, and be prepared to get a little wet and a bit mucky!
If you own a smaller tripod then I'd make sure that's in your bag with your toys too. You don't want to risk accidentally getting your camera equipment wet, especially if you are taking photos at ground level. To help protect my camera I wrap a transparent plastic bag around my camera body, (even a sandwich bag will do!) leaving my lens sticking out of the bag. This ensures that the base of my camera is protected from the water, and prevents it from accidentally getting muddy when I'm shooting low to the ground.
Finally, in the wise words of Douglas Adams, 'always carry a towel'! The last thing you want is to walk or drive home afterwards soaking wet. So maybe also bring along some spare socks and shoes in your backpack too!
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