I’ve been taking photos in and around water for as along as I’ve been a photographer. There is something magical about water; the movement, the sound, the reflections. Being in and around water feeds something basic in my soul. Because of this, it’s only natural that water would make it into my toy photography. Some of my favorite toy images have been taken in water.
While water is beautiful to photograph, it’s not easy to work with. It can be unpredictable; water can steal your LEGO and it can leave you soaking wet. But even with these hazards, the final results are often worth it.
I prefer to photograph in the great out doors so when I talk about water I’m referring to rivers, lakes, puddles as well as the Puget Sound. I have found that the edges around any body of water is usually rocky, muddy, sandy or all three. Not exactly an environment that invites getting down on your knees or stomach for your typical toy photos. Over the years I’ve learned a few tricks about working in and around water plus a few tips to make my life easier.
Tips For Water Photography
1) Lego doesn’t float consistently or at all. If it does float, it will only move away from you as you’re taking photos. I photograph in shallow water like a puddle or build up a base for my subject to rest on. This can be nearby rocks, a bit of wood, a LEGO base plate (although you will have to weight this down) or a water glass. Whatever method you choose make sure you can disguise the object or remove any shadows with Photoshop.
2) If you’re looking for great reflections you will want to get low to the ground and aim across the water. Once you get at this level you can see that the surface of the water acts as a mirror. You can see the reflection and compose for the reflection rather than the subject.
3) Safety first! I have found that water can be unpredictable and a roque wave or a fast moving stream can soon send your figure on an unexpected adventure. Be careful; you don’t want to leave any friends behind! You will want to be aware if tides are going in or out. Its also good to be aware of how big the waves are and to keep a watchful eye on your figures. A rogue wave can easily whisk your subject out to sea! I will often watch the water for a few minutes to get the feel of the wave action before I put my figures in place.
4) Water is very reflective and can cast deep shadows so you will need to have a reflector or portable light on hand. By illuminating the shadows you can eliminate hours of post production manipulation. If you’re working in the bright sun, be careful of unwanted hot spots on your figure. Sometimes its easier to move to the shade or wait for better light, than risk an image where the highlights are blown out.
5) Where the right clothing and have protective gear along. The ground is hard and unforgiving. Once I was laying on rocks for so long to get the perfect photo that my entire side was dappled with bruises. So take it from me, bring knee pads, a small foam pad or a jacket you can kneel on. I also wear water proof shoes. You never know when you will be in the water rather than next to the water.
6) Not all water is moving. Sometime the water will be still and create perfect reflection but you want to create the illusion of movement. If this is the case, use a small twig or rock to break the surface of the water and simulate movement.
7) Don’t be afraid of winter water photos. Photographing in the winter can create some unexpected bonuses. While water freezes in the cold, so does mud. This makes it much easier to kneel on the ground. If you encounter a frozen pond in the sun, it will add extra sparkle to your photo. I’ve created some of my favorite photos in temperatures that are near or below freezing.
8) It’s not always convenient to travel to the woods or a nearby park for water photos. You can create a manmade pool with a shallow dish and have a little pond ready to go at any time. The biggest draw back of this trick is that you will have to resolve the edges by masking. This way you can create the illusion of an outdoor pond. Extra added bonus: let your ‘pond’ freeze in the winter. You can create an instant ice rink, have figures frozen in ice and boats don’t sink!
9) Experiment with camera angles, and shutter speed. Your camera angle will determine what kind of reflection you can capture. Also by slowing down your shutter speed you can capture beautiful effects. If you have image stabilization on your camera you can drop below 1/60th to arounds 1/30th and capture the movement of the water. Experiment and see how slow you can go and still keep your figures in focus.
10) Photographing in and around water can be very rewarding. I encourage you to give it a try and have some fun with your toys!
Do you have any tips you would like to share about working in and around water?