Creative Field Techniques - Water Ripples

How lucky I am that water is a significant element in my photographs. Attracted to water movement and how it distorts colorful reflections, I often manipulate it by creating ripples and using those ripples as part of an image's composition. These ripples can add a pattern and light variations to the scene; which in my mind, gives the water a bold presence. This experiment began with the lone mangrove tree in the photo below, shot on Biscayne Bay near Miami. That day, the wind was very calm and the only movement in the water was from me and the canoe. I stood several feet from the tree and any movement I made caused ripples to flow toward the tree. I really liked how they gave the reflection a dynamic quality. After that shot, I looked for opportunities to add ripples to my photographs.

I learned that I could alter the wavelength and frequency of the ripples by changing the rocking motion of the canoe. For example, in the next image, I very gently rocked the boat slowly. Because the subject (grass reflection) was delicate in nature, I wanted a subtle effect on the reflection. I also learned that it worked best to have the canoe perpendicular to the subject so that the waves would enter evenly across the bottom of the frame and not at an angle. You can see how I capture scenes like this one in my YouTube video titled, "Photographing Intimate Waterscapes from a Boat" or read more about it here.

I can also create ripples by throwing small pebbles into the water, like in the next image. I threw the pebble into the pond a few feet behind the lily and then waited for the ripples to move into the frame. It's actually quite fun to experiment with this effect. I had my camera set up on the tripod and I used a cable release so that I could stand away from the camera and get a better aim at the water when throwing the pebbles. After setting up the composition with correct focus and exposure, I would throw a pebble, then release the shutter several times. After that, I waited a short time for the water to calm down and try it again.

Same approach with my canoe. I bring along small pebbles to use once I find a subject in the water. I set up my tripod in the water next to the canoe and compose my shot. I focus on my subject and get ready to use the cable release. Then I throw a pebble toward the subject. After several attempts and photographs of each attempt, I try to find at least one image that I am happy with, like this one.

And of course, the bonus is when something other than me disturbs the water. In the image below, a bug landed on the water and created the subtle ripples as I was photographing the grass. Nature has a way of creating beauty and water is it's most beautiful creation. Get your camera and go play with the water!

Thanks for looking on and if you are interested in receiving tutorials in Photoshop or individualized workshops in the field, please check out my website and feel free to contact me at