with Courtney Slazinik
5 Ways to Use Water for Memorable Portraits
5 Ways to Use Water for Memorable Portraits

Inspiration comes in many forms and sometimes in unexpected places — such as mud puddles and spray bottles! Like many people, I first picked up a camera to preserve moments, initially taking photos of friends, later of their kids and of course my own kids when they arrived. But it was when I discovered an obsession for Water (along with light) that I really became connected to my camera. From movement and texture to reflection and energy — water is a single element that can add many interesting elements to a photo.

This is a perfect read, just in time for summer! Read - "Ways to Use Water for Memorable Portraits"

Read more: 6 Underwater Photography Tips

Water is everywhere, of course, and pretty easy to incorporate into your portrait work. Here are my favorite ways to use water when taking photos:

  • No.
    Close-Ups next to Water with Reflecting Light

    A close-up portrait is one of my favorite ways to capture a person, and with reflecting water in the background, this close-up can take on a soulful quality. The light from the sun at golden hour (just before sunset or after sunrise) can interact with the water of a pond or ocean to give a flood of light that illuminates the subject’s hair and face in a memorable way.

    An 85mm lens with a wide aperture is my favorite for this type of portrait, along with a polarized filter to soften the stronger reflections and backlight.

  • No.
    Hoses, Sprinklers & Spray Bottles for Fun Action Shots

    I’ve always loved photographing kids with hoses and sprinklers in the background for both personal and lifestyle sessions. The texture of the water and frozen action moments make shooting this same scene feel different and fun every time — and the light works for these shots almost any time of day.

    I just recently learned that a spray bottle can have the same effect, which was a fun experiment to try with my boys! I waited until the moment strong sunlight came in through our windows in the morning and we sprayed away. My sofa got a bath, too!

  • No.
    In Tubs & Showers for Dimension & Interest

    With some natural light coming in, a tub shot can be dimensional and interesting, with the droplets of water highlighted for interest. Bubbles or even a shower with backlight can also catch the eye and make the viewer pause.

    Since stand alone tubs are often installed next to windows, I’m usually able to incorporate this type of shot in my lifestyle sessions, and it’s one clients really love! I find using a 35mm lens or wider is best for the small enclosed shots.

  • No.
    On the Shore for Dreaminess and Intensity

    My ideal location to shoot is always along a shore, whether it’s a pond, lake or ocean. It’s not just the natural beauty of the location that draws me, but the interaction between the water and sunlight.

    The luminous quality of sunset or sunrise light at these locations can give portraits a dream-like intensity, even a magic that might not be as apparent at other times of day. I like to again use a polarized filter to diffuse the strong light a bit and help tame the golden flare I’m always after.

  • No.
    In Pools for Refreshing Perspectives

    No other place illustrates the power of water and light quite like a pool. The dance between the two elements is easy to capture with air also making it’s presence known in the form of eye-catching bubbles. Unlike most other locations, I prefer clouds during the middle of the day for underwater shooting, although golden hour can introduce some interested orange hues I like as well.

    I keep my underwater setup simple, just using an underwater point and shoot in semi-manual mode or a Dicapac bag with my Nikon D800 when I want the highest quality, such as for clients. Both cameras have allowed me to get to know the relationship between water and light on a new level, and every adventure below the surface is different and fun.

Combining water with beautiful light can depend on the right time and the right place. I tend to shoot in the same locations where I know the exact time this interaction of sun and light will take place.

At the beach this light is easier to find, but with ponds and lakes it can take some searching to find a shore that’s positioned just right in relation to the sun. But I don’t mind the search, because it’s often the uniqueness of every water-subject-light combination that keeps me interested, inspired, and ultimately growing.

Read more about underwater and beach photography:

3 Underwater Photography Lessons Learned

6 Underwater Photography Tips

5 Amazing Beach Photos to Try


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