3 ways to smooth over water in photos without using Photoshop

3 simple ways to give water a smoothed in your photos

Frustrated by unattractive water in your landscape photography? Try these simple in-camera tricks for smoothing out ripples in water.

3 simple ways to give water a smoothed in your photos

Water in its many forms is an integral element in a lot of landscape images. The sea, rivers and lakes all provide great subject matter, either as the main subject or as part of the landscape.

But there are times when the watery component of your image can be lumpy or rippled with highlights and shadows, rather than being calm with beautiful reflections.

This kind of unflattering water can really spoil your photo, but there’s an easy workaround to smooth it out and produce a creative result to rescue the situation.

SEE MORE: Water photography: make stunning pictures of water in any environment

How to smooth over water in photography

How to smooth over water in photography: step 1

Create a blur
This is very straightforward. It simply involves extending the exposure time so that the water becomes a blur, smoothing out the ripples or waves and creating a more uniform tone. The length of the exposure required is usually around 1-5 seconds.


How to smooth over water in photography: step 2

Fit a polarising filter
To achieve an exposure time of several seconds it’s usually necessary to reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor by adding filters to the front of the lens. A polariser extends exposure by around two stops, and cuts glare from the water’s surface.

SEE MORE: What is a polarizer – how to reduce reflections in pictures of water

How to smooth over water in photography: step 3

Use an ND filter
A 0.9 neutral density filter will reduce the exposure by three stops. So if your unfiltered exposure was f/16 at 1/30 sec, then with a polariser and 0.9ND filter it’ll be one second (five stops longer). In brighter light or for a longer exposure, fit a stronger ND filter.


9 filter mistakes every photographer makes (and how to avoid them)
Water reflection techniques: how to increase the impact of your landscapes
Best circular polarizer filter: 5 top models tested and rated
Photoshop reflection effect: how to add water to your landscape
5 essential photography filters (and why you can’t live without them!)