Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Electricity from water, no turbine needed

with 48 comments

Several times here in the past three years you’ve seen photographs showing bubbles in creeks. In all those cases either the water and bubbles were fairly static or if the water rushed by and produced rapidly changing bubbles I used a high shutter speed to freeze much of the action. In comments on a few of those photographs several people asked if I ever use a slow shutter speed to produce “cottony” water, as many nature photographers do (you can see a couple of samples from Pairodox and SGG Photo).

I haven’t gone for quite that cottony look, but on July 24th I visited a local waterfall after some recent rain and I experimented with longer-than-usual exposures. Here’s a photograph in which the shutter speed of 1/16 sec. wasn’t nearly long enough to produce any cotton but did turn the brightly flowing water into sparks of electricity or crazy neon lights, take your pick. May this jolt of abstraction get you off to an energetic start today, at least if you’re in the Western Hemisphere. If you’re in Australia or New Zealand, I hope this won’t keep you awake tonight.

Sparkling Creek Water Flowing, Long Exposure 9578

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 14, 2014 at 8:01 AM

48 Responses

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  1. Wow, that’s fully charged.


    August 14, 2014 at 9:01 AM

  2. Much more interesting than the cottony look–fun to look at water in a different way.

    Susan Scheid

    August 14, 2014 at 9:55 AM

    • This is what happens when I don’t have my reading glasses at hand and auto spellcheck gets into the act. Note resting instead of interesting? How does that work . . . (The e instead of a is probably my fault.)

      Susan Scheid

      August 14, 2014 at 9:58 AM

      • Spell-check can have a (mindless) mind of its own. I’ve changed the strange “note resting” above to the less interesting but more understandable “interesting” that you intended. I’ve had some similarly strange results using the speech-to-text feature on my iPhone.

        Steve Schwartzman

        August 14, 2014 at 10:06 AM

      • It also occurred to me that for musically (and synesthetically) inclined people, “note-wresting” could have made sense.

        Steve Schwartzman

        August 14, 2014 at 10:10 AM

    • It was certainly a new way for me, Susan, so I’m happy to note that you’re in agreement with “Vive la différence.” I expect the cottony look will appeal to many more people, and it’s certainly pretty, but because other photographers have done that so well already (as in the samples above) I thought I’d try something else.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 14, 2014 at 10:03 AM

  3. Fascinating!


    August 14, 2014 at 10:43 AM

  4. This is so cool! I would never have guessed water could look like that. And now I’m jolted awake and ready to get moving!


    August 14, 2014 at 10:54 AM

    • I don’t think I thought so either, Melissa, but that’s why it’s good to experiment. I’m glad you’re putting the jolt to good use.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 14, 2014 at 11:01 AM

  5. Something a bit different from you–enjoyed its abstraction.


    August 14, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    • I’m fond of abstractions, Sally, as I know you are. This was a chance to do something unusually abstract that’s still within the realm of nature.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 14, 2014 at 2:20 PM

  6. Where’s the flower? Just kidding! You are very talented and original, no matter what the subject. Definitely my favorite aquagraph of the year!


    August 14, 2014 at 1:17 PM

    • You mean you don’t recognize that this is a sparkleflower, Scintilla rivularis?

      If I were handing out bonus points, Dave, I’d give you some for creating the word aquagraph.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 14, 2014 at 2:24 PM

      • Just kind of came to me. I give your photograph credit for sparking my imagination.


        August 14, 2014 at 3:12 PM

        • If these sparks have allowed your imagination to flourish, all the more credit to them (and you and me).

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 14, 2014 at 3:19 PM

  7. Wow … who would have anticipated this effect? Crazy shot. Now, tell the truth … did you know this would happen, or was the result a very happy surprise? D

    Pairodox Farm

    August 14, 2014 at 4:33 PM

    • I didn’t know what to expect. You could say that was the very point of the experiment: to find out what effects different shutter speeds would produce with the flowing and falling water.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 14, 2014 at 4:46 PM

      • It’s often a surprise even with the suspicion of what the image will look like at slow speeds. Trying to see things differently and in your own way is what art is all about….well, maybe not all, but a lot. 🙂

        Steve Gingold

        August 14, 2014 at 5:13 PM

      • A true experimentalist … beautiful result. D

        Pairodox Farm

        August 14, 2014 at 5:46 PM

        • You’ve reminded me that the words experiment and experience come from the same source. The former leads to the latter.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 14, 2014 at 6:54 PM

          • From the Latin .. experior .. to try, experience?

            Pairodox Farm

            August 14, 2014 at 7:25 PM

            • You got it. My Latin dictionary gives many meanings: ‘to try, prove, put to the test; to undertake, attempt, make trial of, undergo, experience [a thing].’

              Steve Schwartzman

              August 14, 2014 at 8:49 PM

  8. Very cool, creatively different and very interesting as an abstract, Steve. I like this a lot.

    Steve Gingold

    August 14, 2014 at 5:11 PM

    • Experimentation has its risks and rewards, Steve, as you have found too, so thanks for letting me know you think this one succeeded.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 14, 2014 at 6:43 PM

  9. I am intrigued by the very erratic paths taken by some. What are the dimensions of the scene?

    Jim in IA

    August 14, 2014 at 6:43 PM

    • Good question. This was a small waterfall probably no more than 3 ft. high, and I closed in on a section of it, but I no longer recall how much. In the chaos of the falling water, apparently some drops took courses that were more erratic than others, perhaps based in part on the rocks over which the falls were flowing. Also, largely at random, some drops must have collided with others and had their trajectories changed by the collisions.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 14, 2014 at 6:49 PM

      • Could be that when a bubble pops, a neighbor bubble slightly upstream shifts over to take its place. It would be interesting to get a short video clip and watch the process in slow motion and HD.

        Thanks for the experiment. Good results.

        Jim in IA

        August 14, 2014 at 6:52 PM

        • You’re welcome. I’ve thought about doing some video clips of nature because that would be such a different way of recording reality.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 14, 2014 at 6:57 PM

  10. It’s as though you combined lightning and rainfall in the same image, something I’ve never seen done. I made a little haiku to go with it.

    plashing droplets run
    wild erratic courses
    streaming toward stillness


    August 14, 2014 at 8:05 PM

    • That’s a good description, lightning and rainfall combined, even though it’s actually neither. Thanks for your haiku to commemorate the convergence.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 14, 2014 at 10:23 PM

  11. this is amazing


    August 14, 2014 at 9:35 PM

  12. Wowza! Great image, there’s no way I would have known what it was without your explanation.

    Alex Autin

    August 15, 2014 at 7:46 AM

    • Thanks for what I think is the first “wowza!” I’ve ever gotten. Your comment makes me wonder if I should have posted the picture without an explanation and asked people to say what they thought it is.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 15, 2014 at 11:30 AM

  13. Love your electricity analogy, Steve, and what a burst of energy!


    August 16, 2014 at 9:58 AM

    • Yes, it’s good to send some sparks flying every now and then, and even better if we can do it in a new way.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 16, 2014 at 10:01 AM

  14. What a great abstract! Experimentation is such fun 🙂

  15. I’m putting together a “water” post Steve and you have many stunning photos but I find myself most drawn to this one because it’s so surprising.. I can’t say I’ve seen one like it. May I include it in my “water” post?

    Ms. Liz

    May 5, 2019 at 7:40 PM

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