Perfect Water

June 04, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Perfect water - the dark wind braids the waves.
The crazed birds raid the trees. Is this our destiny?
To join our hands at sea - and slowly sink, and slowly think:
This is perfect water, passing over me.


The rainforest of North Easter Queensland, Australia are the oldest in the world, even older than the mighty Amazon.   I recently managed to spend three weeks kicking around there, on the Tablelands, and in the outback.  The rugged environment, with rolling hills, beaches, and lots of rain make for a huge number of bays, creeks, rivers, and waterfalls.  So one of my goals for this trip was to capture some great water images!

There were a few things I knew I would need.   I would be shooting at long shutter speeds to get the motion of the water, so a tripod was a must.  A few filters would come in handy too.  I took a neutral density (ND) filter, which is a great tool that allows you to extend the time the shutter stays open without over exposing the image.  I also brought a circular polarizer, which like a good pair of boating shades, knocks down the glare and allows you to see into the wet spaces.  This is also a great way to bring the sky out and get foliage jumping.  I have a 2 second and 10 second timer on my camera, and my shutter speed was not going to be over 10 seconds, so I could leave my remote in the bag, which was nice as many of these locations required a substantial hike through the hot and steamy wilds.  The less I had to tote the better!  I was comfortable that the 10 second timer would allow any wiggle I had introduced into the camera and tripod while pressing the trigger to dissipate.

Do you know Jacques Cousteau when they said on the radio,
that he hears bells in random order, deep beneath the perfect water?
Love!  That is frightening, but still so inviting.
To drown inside a sound that lay so far underground.
And to think... and to think:
This is perfect water, passing over me.

Man, they have waterfalls everywhere!  After a while they all start to look the same, and the photos did too.  I was getting what I wanted mechanically - the flow of water - the mystic feel of fluid movement.  Nice photos, but not unique.  Just as a reference, here are the camera settings: 

17 mm
5s at f/9
ISO 100


As an artist, I started thinking how do I make something that will stand out, something that would really pop.  I went back to what I learned with my landscape experiments - composition is king!  I started looking for object to use in the foreground.  I looked for different angles.  Getting in the water and getting wet was very rewarding.  First, I got that Indiana Jones kind of combat cameraman grove on, which always makes me smile, and more importantly, I started getting compositions that are more unique.  And THAT is the real pay off.


Some of the scenes were just too big to capture the feel of in a single image.  This fall was at the head of gorge, on top of a series of falls, and originated from a concave wall that screamed “KONG!”  It is truly an amazing place, but how do you capture it.  There is a tall single fall without any cascades, which in itself is elegant, but a bit dull visually.  The curvature of the wall didn’t really present any leading lines.  There is this one tree at the trail head.  So a little digging in the underbrush and slipping on rocks and I was able to capture this.


Perfect water - I dream this dream within the deep and warm Gulf Stream.
Where two blocks of ice melt into my hands like dice,
and I roll seven on the floor of the sea!
And I roll seven on the floor of the sea!
And I feel the perfect water, washing over me.


After a few weeks of rainforest trekking, I was feeling a bit claustrophobic.  It was time for a little beach time down on the coast.  The same issues present themselves here.  How do I avoid the “nice picture on any beach” look and get something exciting?  I applied the same principles in composition. 

To flow inside the spiral tide;
to drown my eyes like a blind ride.
And to cross the perils of black water -
It waits for me like mother and daughter.
A life of perfect order!  A strange and perfect water!


This last photo was taken from my dinner table at an outdoor restaurant in Port Douglas.  It seems like a nice way to end this post.  Again, all the compositional elements are present.  And with a sky like that, it would have been hard to screw up!  :-)

Water is an amazing thing.  Fascinating in its complexity.  Thrilling in its vibrancy.  Soothing in its calm.  Each of those facets takes a little different technique to capture.  Like most things mechanical, the technical techniques with the camera, once learned, are simple.  The art comes when a good photographer uses their vision to breathe life into the image.  That is why good photographers will always have work.  That's why I want to be a good photographer.

Now, go take some exceptional pictures!


The lyrics are from one of my favorite BOC songs, “Perfect Water”.  Check it out here!


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