How to: Successfully Shoot Water Portraits

Shooting images with an added element of water can present a whole extra set of problems. After a few tries and learning from my mistakes, I wanted to help you learn how to take beautiful portraits with water.


FOCUS: Since water is ever-moving it is best to make sure you’re focused on the correct subject so it may be better to manually focus if you have the experience. Autofocus might focus on the water instead of your model so you want to double and triple check that you are focused correctly.


SHUTTER SPEED: I recommend shooting on a very quick shutter speed instead of a slower speed. Again since water is constantly moving you don’t want the water to appear too soft in your images unless the water is the main focus of the images. Turn up your shutter speed and really make sure the water is as clear as you can make it.


COLOR SCHEME: Have your model wear a more neutral color and avoid patterns as this can distract from the main focus of the image is the water and portrait. In your images, you should always try to only have 3 main subject points. In the water, those subject points should be water, the model and one additional thing such as clouds in the sky or something floating alongside your model.


LIGHTING OUTDOORS: If shooting in an outdoor area such as a pool or the ocean make sure to shoot at a time when the sun is not high in the sky so avoid times from 11-4. I say this because water is a natural reflector and can cause excess lighting on your model’s face that isn’t anticipated. Make sure you’re constantly checking your meter reading because the lighting conditions when shooting in water change quickly and drastically.


LIGHTING INDOORS: If shooting indoors with water such as in a bathtub I recommend using studio lighting of some sort if you have limited natural light due to a small window. I personally have always used studio lighting because I feel as though it brings out colors better and makes your image look a lot crisper than natural light might. Also since bathtubs are so white the studio light can help make sure it’s very bright and not muddy. I have shot natural light before and it’s a little bit harder to control and maintain the ISO I want to not get grain in my image.


LENS TO USE: I recommend using a 24-70mm lens when shooting bathtub portraits or a 35mm lens because you don’t have a lot of space to move around so a longer focal length lens will work best in these scenarios. When shooting outdoors I recommend a 50mm portrait lens so you can get the nice bokeh behind your subject and it creates a sharper feel than a lot of other lenses I’ve shot.


CREATING A MILKY LOOK: Firstly you should fill the bathtub almost all the way with warm water so your model doesn’t freeze! Next, add a gallon of nut or soy milk or as much milk as you need before it becomes a fairly thick consistency. I would say add enough so you can still see your hand if it’s about an inch under but enough so you can’t see it if it’s more than 3 inches into the water.


POSING: Water is ever-moving so evoke that in your model, direct them to move with the water or stay perfectly still to allow for contrast. I personally like to pose women with more graceful and moving poses while I pose men with a more sedentary pose to contrast with the water.



PROPS: In the pool or ocean I don’t recommend using props because I think it distracts from the overall landscape. When shooting in a bathtub I recommend using between 10-15 drops of food coloring, flowers or leaves. Make sure you use real flowers because artificial flowers float to the bottom and don’t allow for the pretty bohemian look. Also when using food coloring make sure your subject isn’t wearing white because although it isn’t likely it will stain there is always the possibility. I also recommend using milk along with the food coloring because I think it makes the colors pop more!


If you would like to see the full set of these images you can click on the three links below! If you end up taking water portraits make sure to tag me @goodallphotos so I can see your interpretation of it!

Surrealistic Water Portraits

Pool Portraits 

Water Portraits (the OG)

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