Using Water to Lighten Landscape Photos

Using Water to Lighten Landscape Photos


Most Pro landscape photographers recommend shooting either at (or around) dawn or dusk in order to capture their scene in the ‘golden hours’ when the light is at it’s best (in fact some will rarely shoot at any other time of day).

However, one of the problems associated with shooting at this time of day is that while the sky will often have enough light in it the foreground of your images can sometimes end up being a little underexposed and featureless.

One way to get around underexposed foregrounds is to include water in that area of your shot and to get it reflecting light from the sky.

This is a particularly effective technique at sunrise or sunset when there’s color and interesting cloud formations in the sky (and reflections in the water).

It may take a little experimentation with different positions to shoot from in order to get the right part of the sky in the reflections but with a little trial and error the effect can be quite stunning and a much brighter and more balanced image.

Even if you don’t get perfect reflections the light coming from the water can help balance the shot and help you overcome underexposed foregrounds.


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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • ArturoMM May 25, 2013 04:49 am

    About the unfavorable comments:

    I think the author is just telling us that If the foreground is too dark and we want a photo of the sunset/sunrise we may look for water and get a beautiful photo.

  • Jerry Schneir May 24, 2013 02:52 am

    I noticed a few of the comments weren't all that favorable. I will add my comment to the less favorable ones. Peter's shot of the boat and the sky while interesting might have been better, a lot better, if he had tried a horizontal view, at least I would have liked to see that comparison. And there was a scarcity of detail in the boat. I can understand thinking how a portrait view might accenuate the boat and the sky but I have shot many similar images and found the landscape view generally better.

    Some of the other examples looked over-processed to me, the sky looked false in the last pne . Sometimes a sky along with the water reflection takes on fantastic coloring, but I can't remember anything like that.

  • Mridula May 24, 2013 12:05 am

    Mind blowing image the last one!

  • marius2die4 May 23, 2013 05:45 am

    Excellent ideea!
    Some of mine pics:

  • DyaDyo Sadim May 18, 2013 06:28 am

    Good Article

  • Simon May 17, 2013 09:56 pm

    Nice photos, but the author should have added, that all of them has been made with a use of graduated filters

  • Guigphotography May 17, 2013 07:29 pm

    Great tip. Seems a simple thing but worth pointing out. I didn't consciously do this until I realised the effect it had on this image:

  • NicoDem May 17, 2013 07:27 pm

    Great photos!

    in my collection, I love those ones:
    -> in a more urban style...

  • Martyn Thompson May 17, 2013 06:42 pm

    Great article and if you want to put these ideas into practice in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, come and visit me in Parque Natural de Cabo de Gata -

  • Steve May 17, 2013 06:02 pm

    Always love water and reflections

  • Fredrik May 17, 2013 02:23 pm

    Excellent tips..!

  • Ahmed Zoha May 17, 2013 10:57 am

    My favourite subject, I have couple of shots in my stream in which I have experimented with combination of water and dusk..One can be seen in the given below link

  • GradyPhilpott May 17, 2013 09:57 am

    While these are excellent photographs, they are photographs of water, which is fine, but I don't see that these illustrate how to use water to lighten the scene.

    It would seem to me that the author is telling us to shoot water at dusk and dawn, with the "landscape" so far distant that the lighting is immaterial.

  • Chitra Sivasankar Arunagiri November 6, 2012 09:02 pm

    Great points here. Awesome!!! I have not thought about underexposing the foreground before. I did not know why it did not strike my mind but it would be great to try that.

  • Michael July 2, 2011 02:07 pm

    It was great, as a matter of fact, I did not know this Technic and always I had problem with either overexposed sky or under exposed fore ground.
    thank you for your helpful post.

  • asmita July 1, 2011 03:18 pm

    lovely pick i just want to now how to take shoot in running movement
    of the land cape. Give some tip
    (i mean too say if eve setting the car or bus and we see nice landscape how to shoo t in running movement Beck picture comes shaky .

  • Reddy June 30, 2011 04:28 am

    What f/stop and the iso to be taking the photo? Which one with the A/P/S???

  • scottc June 29, 2011 02:50 pm

    Another example of water and reflections as a foreground at night, the Ha'Penny bridge over the River Liffey in Dublin.

  • scottc June 29, 2011 02:46 pm

    Great point, I think water can make a nice foreground in many photos other than landscapes as well.

    An Amsterdam canal at night with light reflections:

  • Erik Kerstenbeck June 29, 2011 07:52 am


    Great article. When faced with these conditions, I resort to any number of tools. The Graduated Neutral density filter helps with blown out sky and allows great foreground exposure. When that is not handy, one can always bracket the exposure and combine with HDR Software. This is what I did with this shot of a stunning sunset over a pond in New Zealand!

  • DOJ March 29, 2010 09:30 am


  • lucheng0 August 31, 2009 06:10 pm

    superb idea, thx a lot !!

  • Joseph Kato August 26, 2009 02:21 am

    I would love to say thank you for the info that you provide.

  • sabira August 22, 2009 07:15 am

    Lovely shots. What do l do when there is no water around, l'm a beginner.

    Thank you


  • Major Bokeh August 21, 2009 01:15 pm

    I think that the water "complimenting" the image is way off. The water is an integral part of the image's success. The water is essential to the composition and exposure and even the concept. So don't make the water a simple "fill" element. It's the centerpiece of the shot. Try these images on land and they aren't even half as good.


  • Chris Ridley August 21, 2009 04:33 am

    In this top image of a black and white / Duotone landscape I used the reflection of the water to complement the sky and the background. I also increased the brightness of certain areas of the image based on the colour, to get an overall nice feel to my black and white image, done in Lightroom.

    Hope that helps someone!


  • David August 21, 2009 01:49 am

    that's an excellent point . Of course , if the weather isn't quite right you can always cheat and use Photoshop to add a reflection . The water in the loch at Eilean Donan Castle was too choppy so I copied the top half of the image , inverted it and added it to the bottom half

  • Stacy August 20, 2009 07:33 pm

    Nice article and choice of pictures!

  • jobob arikan August 20, 2009 01:43 pm

  • jobob arikan August 20, 2009 01:40 pm

  • MeiTeng August 20, 2009 12:44 pm

    Love the first two images.

  • Sparda79 August 20, 2009 11:30 am

    Very good tips. I done this before, but never occurred to me it can be used to overcome underexposed foregrounds.

    Coincidentally I have posted some shots that might be related to this articles.


  • Sparda79 August 20, 2009 10:48 am

    Very good tips. I've done this before, but it never occurred to me it can be used to overcome the underexpose foregrounds.

    Coincidentally, I posted a night shot a few days ago. Might be fit this article.


  • Don Grant August 20, 2009 09:39 am

    Excellent tip's and a lot of usefull information, like the photo's used for this tip taken a lot of shots using river's canal etc anyone want to pass comment on them or tip,s I do not have a DSLR only a zoom lens camera for present.

  • Ben August 20, 2009 06:38 am

    Nice choice of photos!

  • James Riordon August 20, 2009 05:58 am

    Fun stuff and good coincidence. Just last night I looked over some photos from last year and posted a few online. A couple of which are using water to lighten up the scene a bit.

  • rani August 26, 2007 08:55 pm

    the photos are amazing with best composition i like it very much it shows the different veiws of nature thanks for giving the amazing tips

  • Doug August 17, 2007 12:44 am

    Great Tips, Many thanks and an excellent website.

  • Spamouflage July 24, 2007 05:00 am

    Great post. When will I ever be able to take pictures like these?

  • Stuart July 14, 2007 03:20 pm

    What a great site. I agree with Andrew about "Solutions that you can implement while shooting" v. post-production. Is there a catalog page for 'Tips while behind the lens?'

    Amazing photos... Thanks

  • Christof July 13, 2007 04:04 pm

    Wow! Fantastic photos! I´ll try that, too! ;-) Great blog anyway!