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Camera Settings for Photographing Misty Streams and Rivers

What settings should you use on your camera to photograph cloudy mist and a flowing stream in a mysterious, dream-like scene? A professional photographer goes over the techniques he used. (Reported by: Yoshio Shinkai)

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM/ FL: 24mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/13, 4 sec., EV±0)/ ISO 200/ WB: Daylight
I wanted to create an air of mystery in this scene of a stream with lingering mist, so I used a slow shutter to create a blurring effect on the water currents, giving them a silky look. To add a slight bluish tint, the white balance was set to “Daylight”.


The scene and my approach to it

When I shot this scene, the sky was overcast and mist was lingering upstream. The mist wafted above the water surface and did not form beyond that height. I chose a spot with less mist and set up my tripod from where I could see the flowing stream.


Point 1: An aperture setting that creates depth – f/13

For scenes such as this one, it is important to create depth in the photo. This can be done by decreasing aperture to increase the depth of field as much as possible. Doing so includes both the downstream and upstream sections of the stream in the frame, thus giving the stream a stronger presence. At the same time, I decreased aperture reducing shutter speed, and then set aperture at f/13 to bring out the moss.


Point 2: A shutter speed that conveys dynamism – 4 sec.

I thought of depicting movement amid the silence; the shutter speed would determine how the water currents would look. As I shot the photo in Aperture-priority AE mode, the shutter speed was adjusted to 4 seconds, but I managed to convey the movement of the water sufficiently.


Point 3: Pay careful attention to the depiction of highlights – Highlight tone priority

The mist and water currents were highlight details in the image, where I wanted to ensure that blowout did not occur. To reproduce the pure white of the mist and water, I used the Highlight tone priority function in the camera. Although this raised the ISO speed to 200, the gradations in the highlights were still depicted smoothly.


Tip: Mist forms in areas where there is a temperature difference

You’ve seen how you can photograph a misty scene with a mysterious feel. To get an idea of where you can find mist, let’s take a look at how it forms:

One of the main factors is a difference between air temperature and water temperature occurring within a short period of time. This is precisely why rain falls when a low pressure system passes over streams and other water bodies in relatively elevated areas. In Japan, in winter, mist or fog forms because of the temperature difference between the cold atmosphere and the relatively warmer water. In summer, the moving water in lakes and streams is cooler than the surrounding air, but when rain falls, this air is cooled rapidly, and mist forms. 

I took this photo in the second half of July after midday, so the mist was probably formed because of the presence of a temperature difference between the water in the stream and the atmosphere.


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EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

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Yoshio Shinkai


Born in Nagano in 1953, Shinkai started travelling throughout Japan with a large-format camera to shoot landscape photography in 1979. Currently, he shoots for a wide range of media, ranging from posters and calendars to travel brochures and photography magazines.


Digital Camera Magazine


A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
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