Water is the force behind all life on Earth. Where there is life, you’ll find water, and where there is water, you’ll almost always find life. And in many places, water is a prominent feature of the surrounding landscape, whether it’s the ocean, a major river or lake, or something like a small stream, pond, or swamp.
Photographing water can bring its own special challenges, though. Light reflection can be used to add extra dimension to an image, or it can distract from the main subject of the photo. Likewise, capturing the depth of a particular body of water, or the reflection cast by the surrounding landscape, can be tricky. Below are 50 photographs that got it right, to give you ideas for how to feature waterscapes in your own photographs.
Water Melody by steve_steady64
The motion blur of the water running over the rocks is in stark contrast to the sharpness of the rocks themselves in the foreground.
Snow and Water by Tambako the Jaguar
Even smaller water features can add depth and dimension to an image. The stream refelcts the sky and adds an extra element to the photo that makes it stand out among other snow-covered landscapes. It also makes the picture feel warmer, as the water isn’t yet frozen.
Running Water… by AlexPears
Again, blurs from moving water can add softness to a photo and make it feel more dynamic, especially when contrasted with surrounding stillness.
The Water Smells Too Loud by notsogoodphotography
Capturing small waves in sharp focus is difficult, as they are shifting and changing constantly.
Sea Fight Brave vs Calm Water by J Pod
The contrast of the frothy, turbulent water reaching the pool of still water adds depth to this photo. The blown-out light, while normally not a positive, makes me feel like I’m more a part of the photo and even makes me want to squint to look at it.
Waterfall at Virginia Water by wwarby
Waterfalls provide dynamic motion while also lending structure to a photo. The framing on this photo is excellent, with the waterfall placed in just the right spot.
Heavy Water by Amir K.
Contrasting water and sky is another favored technique, and the breaking waves here make the image much more dynamic than your standard ocean/sky shot.
Water by World Resources Institute Staff
Water in soft light often blurs the edge between horizon and sky, as it does in the left-hand side of this image.
Evening Waters by Andrew Stawarz
Longer exposure times in water shots add softness and can make the overall image appear misty and ethereal.
Calm Waters by lecates
An excellent example of using reflection to complement a photo. The darkness of the image allows the sunlight to be seen more clearly and makes the entire image a bit more interesting.
Blue Early Morning Misty Waters by Tell Jeeves
Capturing waterfowl and other wildlife in and around water makes the entire thing seem more like a moment in time than an unchanging landscape.
Mountain Water by Ryan McD
Capturing reflections of the sky or surrounding landscape is a great technique. In smaller bodies of water, you can change what’s reflected based on your position to the water. Notice, too, how the sky’s reflection has a lot more depth than the sky itself in this image.
At the Waters Edge Lake Tikapo by mcaretaker
Sometimes the color of the water itself can become the focus of the image. The turquoise-blue waters here would make most people think of tropical seas, but the snow-covered mountains in the background sharply contrast with that idea.
Water UpClose by acearchie
Close-in shots of water (or any natural element) can give us a different perspective. I imagine this is more like what waterfowl see when swimming or standing in this river.
Miracle on the Hudson River by laverrue
Don’t overlook ice or man-made elements in waterscapes. The water here looks like it’s just-frozen, and the reflection from the sunset (or rise) makes it look at bit like frozen sherbet.
Braided River by Unhindered by Talent
Even fast-moving water can reflect the colors of the sky dynamically. This shot also shows the effects of erosion and hints that the water isn’t always so low and harmless.
Stream of Light, Stream of Water by rachel_thecat
The sunlight here makes the fast-moving water almost appear to be lit from within.
Reflection In The Water on Lovstakken
Another example of still waters perfectly reflecting the sky, but adding more depth in the process.
A Little Island by Sham Hardy
Turbulent waters complement the stormy sky in this image, and the colors are fantastic.
Sunrise on Ulsoor Lake 4 by Swami Stream
The reflection here is a bit softer than the actual sky, while also blurring the exact line between shore and water in places.
Lake Of Monteith 1 by left-hand
The depth of field here is wonderful, and the reflection in the water along the far shore shows the difference perspective makes in how things are seen.
Arthington Viaduct at Dawn by James Whitesmith
Water can be used to reinforce shapes or other elements, as it does in the reflection of the viaduct here.
Morning Mist by James Jordan
Water covered by thin fog blurs the line between what is water and what is land and serves as a neutral background for subject of the photo.
Spirits in the Night
Another example of how long exposures soften water and smooth everything out.
Wet rocks here reinforce the movement of the water, as does the slight motion blur.
Lake George Dock in Morning Mist #2 by thomsimonson
Another great example of fog and mist adding depth to an image.
The golden sunlight filtering through the fog and reflecting off the water completely blurs the line between water and horizon.
Sunbeams Across Lake Geneva by Pear Biter
HDR treatments can be particularly dynamic when applied to shimmering water.
Cromer Sun by StormyDog
The color and reflections here are only part of what makes this image great. The water and the sky also serve almost as mirror-images of each other, with more turbulent features in the foreground.
Erawan Waterfalls — 7 Steps to Heavon by Todd Huffman
Unusual water, whether because of color or other features, can also make a great subject, as the milky, turquoise-colored water is here.
Gulfoss Waterfall by Randomskk
Dramatic shots of waterfalls and rapids reinforce the power of water as a force of nature.
Manai Waterfall by TANAKA Juuyoh
Showing the effects of water on its surroundings is another great way to reinforce its power in nature.
Rain —Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge by ex_magician
The water here perfectly mirrors the sky, which adds en extra layer of interest to what might otherwise be a very ho-hum shot.
Sunset 2 — Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge by ex_magician
The reflection of a sunset is probably one of the most beautiful things to capture in a waterscape (and one of the most popular shots to take). The mountains here, which would likely be the primary subject of a daytime shot, take a backseat to the sky and water.
Opal Pool in the Midway Basin of Yellowstone by Alaskan Dude
Capturing water’s depth is almost always dramatic, especially when you can’t see the bottom of the body of water.
Turkey Creek Wetland by tlindenbaum
The contrast of the yellowish reeds and landscape contrast beautifully with the sky and water.
White Mountain Waters Streaming Among Rocks by Horia Varian
The rocks and water serve as a neutral here that makes the green of the grass really pop. The focus still remains on the water itself, though.
Mountain Stream by marcn
Capturing motion in streams up close can give them a sense of being much grander than they actually are.
Mountain Stream as Summer Wanes by makelessnoise
Water does wonderful things to add interest to an image that would otherwise be mediocre.
Avalanche Gorge by vladeb
Another great example of water’s effects, contrasted by the calm and color of the water itself.
Field and Stream by tinken
Another excellent example of water adding depth to an otherwise-ordinary image.
Crecida / Flooding by Anvica
Floods can be great subjects, but always keep in mind that floods are also destructive and there is a definite toll on property and people’s lives. Floods can also be dangerous, so use common sense when photographing.
Vantaankoski by timo_w2s
Frothy water peeking through hints at the movement that still exists under the ice.
Partially Frozen Stream by Marco Arment
Icicles with still-flowing water are another great subject that emphasize the changing of seasons, from autumn to winter.
Thaw (saturated version) by Joel Bedford
Another beautiful example of a sunset or sunrise reflection, though the floating ice in teh foreground adds an unexpected element to the photo.
Winter Serenity by Richard0
Rippled sand adds interest to this photo, without hindering the water’s ability to reflect the sky.
Hofn by wili_hybrid
The framing on this photo is nearly ideal, and the bright green grass in the foreground adds a bit of visual interest in what might otherwise be a very drab photo, color-wise. The fact the reflection is almost a perfect mirror-image of the sky is amazing, since skies usually end up much brighter than their reflections.
Blue Morning by GenoDM
The bright blue of the water here almost seems unnatural, but when combined with the sky and the mountains in the background is really quite stunning.
Serenity by nosha
The composition and framing in this photo is perfect, and the muted colors lend a real sense of calm.
Rocks That Make You Contemplate by Let Ideas Compete
The horizon here is blurred, partly because of the rocks in the foreground and partly because of the almost identical colors of water and sky.