Better fishing pictures: Clear Water

Published Feb 15th 2009

How to catch the impression of that really pure and clear water.


Clear impressions

We all love these shots of stunningly clear water. Streams, lakes even the ocean can appear almost non-existent in the way that the bottom is visible in your shot.

How do you best shoot these images, which let's the freshness of the water come out in the final picture?

Well, first of all you find clear water!
Yes, I know it sounds obvious, but if the water is muddy or silty, it will probably never come out as clear. Some water has a tone to it - blueish, greenish or peaty, tea-colored, but is still clear. The color is mostly caused by different substances diluted in the water like calcium, ocher, humus from bogs or from particles like a green tint caused by algae or brownish caused by small particles. Such water can still appear clear, although it's not going to come out stunningly clear.

We usually perceive the "fresh" colors with clarity, so the blues and greens will work better than the browns. Many of my own clear water images have been shot in peaty waters - mostly because we have a lot of them in Northern Europe and Scandinavia.

But for the breathtaking clear look, you need clear water. Oceanic, spring fed or similar. Clear as gin.

Clear water

So, when the water is found, you have two things to see to for bringing that clarity into the picture: light and reflections.

The light generally needs to be in you back. This will give the best light on the stuff in the water - typically the bottom consisting of sand, stones, tree trunks or whatever. If the sun is shining, just watch out for your own shadow.

Backdrop - The dark mountainside reflecting in the water makes it look even clearer. Notice how the least bit of sky (lower right) immediately gives glare.
The color of water - Some water will take the most amazing colors from its surrounding, like in this chalk lined lake
The color of water
Wideangle - By using a wideangle lens you get both the sky and the bottom quite close to you in the same picture

Silty water and glare - Melt-off will usually give a lot of hazy silt in the water and combined with a clear blue sky and the sun against you, it\'s not the place to give the impression of clear water
Silty water and glare
Sun in the back - Having the sun in the back helps a lot when you want the camera to be able to look into the water. But as you can see the sun also illuminates the opposite bank, which reflects nicely in the surface, blocking the view of the clear water further out. A higher standpoint will move the glare back
Sun in the back
Tropical - The sizzling blue sky and the often very clear water of the tropics can offer some great clear water subjects
Unclear - Some water is nowhere near being clear, like this meltoff water in British Columbia
If the light is against you, you will increase the risk of reflections. The sun itself is of course a problem, but most elements will reflect in the water. Clouds can be a nightmare, and on overcast days, it will take some work to get the really clear look. You can do a lot by moving around. In mountains, valleys or in forests you can often find a dark backdrop to block out the reflections. The backdrop will still reflect, bu because it's dark, it will not block the surface.

You can also move up a bit - or simply lift the camera. When your angle of view is high, you can sometimes avoid the refections too. At least in part of your image. A camera with a wideangle lens stretched out above your head can give some amazing impressions of the clarity in the water, while at the same time retaining a great perspective with foreground and background in your image.

You can also use wizardry such as a polarizer. That is a filter, which has the purpose of removing reflections. By putting that in front of your lens and turning it to the right angle, you can filter out a lot of reflections.

Glare - Even though the water is very clear here, it\'s obscured by the glare of the sky
Polarizing filter - The polarizer helps reduce glare significantly
Polarizing filter
No polarizer - What you see reflected is simply the blue sky
No polarizer
With polarizer - The polarizing filter essentially removes the reflections
With polarizer
Sun in the face - In spite of the high angle and the water being clear, the hazy sun reflects and blocks the surface
Sun in the face
With a polarizer - This was take with a polarizing filter right into the sun. The filter was able to remove most of the glare and give the impression of the clarity of the water
With a polarizer


Many new compact cameras allow you to take underwater shots, and once the camera submerges you will notice how dirty even the clearest water is. Underwater pictures work best in really, really clear water. Try to stay away from the flash.

The flash will illuminate stuff between the camera and your subject, and the camera will have a tendency to expose for the nearest elements, and not show the stuff further away, completely ruining the sense of perspective and translucency in the water.

So underwater images are best shot in really clear water with lots of light. And since you usually can't see what you are doing, you'd better take a lot of them, because most are usually useless.

Flash and dusk

When over the water, the flash can be the opposite: a great helper to penetrate the water and get to see what's down there. Flash images taken at dawn and dusk have a tendency to bring out a really great ambiance in clear water, and you can sometimes flash almost straight into the water and get some great results. But don't go all straight. That will only result in reflections of your flash. The same rule applies to angle as above. A higher angle gives a view into the water, a lower angle will let the water appear all dark.

Fish in the clear water!

A series
These are all the articles in our series about better fly fishing photography. Read this series and you will learn a lot ebout getting better pictures while fishing. General outdoors pohotographers may also pick up a thing or two...
Better fly-fishing pictures

User comments
From: jean jacques stone fox · foxyboy169·at·  Link
Submitted August 16th 2009

mate you seem to have some good fishing, luckey for me i have a river near by where we can catch pike , roach, chub ( a lot of big resident chub) on the fly, the biggest i had so far is a 5lb chub. Bro you take some amazing pictures, there not one picture here on your site that i dont like, they are truely amazing...keep up the good work....

From: Jeremy Hookway · jeremy.hookway·at·  Link
Submitted February 24th 2009

wow! super photos. thanks for the tips.

GFF staff comment
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·  Link
Submitted February 20th 2009


The fish were spotted in the ocean south of Copenhagen, and the fly? Well I don't remember do a search for sea trout flies on this site, and you will finds dozens.


From: robert · flyfisher.mail·at·  Link
Submitted February 20th 2009

that is a really good artikle where s the place with the big swarm of fish? and which fly did you use when you cought that seatrout

From: Tomaz Modic  Link
Submitted February 16th 2009

Great article, Martin!

GFF staff comment
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·  Link
Submitted February 16th 2009


There was no particular post processing done. The original was slightly darker than this version, but the levels through the image are unchanged. I used a digital SLR with an external flash for the image, and they tend to control tricky flash exposures like this a bit better than compact cameras with their small built in flashes. It was shot at a fairly low shutter speed - a 45th of a second - to get the sky right, but apart from that keine Hexerei, nur Behändicheit...

Here is a shot of the same scene with no flash. No clear water.


From: Peter Stoltze · flyfish·at·  Link
Submitted February 16th 2009


Your picture of Henning night fishing with illuminated sea weed in the foreground is just great! I don't recall having seen anything like this before. Any significant post-processing, like dividing the image and lightening the lower part?


GFF staff comment
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·  Link
Submitted February 16th 2009


As far as I can deduct from the web IMBA is often used in Warcraft and means either imbalanced or immensely badass. We prefer the latter interpretation. Kasper's crashing wave is a great picture.


From: Korrie Broos · korrie·at·  Link
Submitted February 16th 2009

Some really good tips and stunning pictures in this article.

From: Peter Skovgaard Andersen · staunte·at·  Link
Submitted February 15th 2009

wave picture is imba!

GFF staff comment
Comment to an image
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·  Link
Submitted February 22nd 2009


Lars who took the picture did mention trout, yes...


Comment to an image
From: Matt · wbranchman·at·  Link
Submitted February 22nd 2009

Beautiful setting - are there trout in this little stream?

GFF staff comment
Comment to an image
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·  Link
Submitted February 16th 2009


The image was shot on Corsica.


Comment to an image
From: Anonymous  Link
Submitted February 16th 2009


Comment to an image
From: chris watson · chriswatsondc·at·  Link
Submitted March 27th 2011

great photo

Comment to an image
From: Skylar · sjennings7·at·  Link
Submitted February 18th 2010

This is a pretty picture!!!

Want to comment this page? Fill out the form below.
Only comments
in English
are accepted!

Comentarios en Ingles
solamente, por favor!

Your name Your email
Anonymize my information. Name and email will not be shown with comment.
Notify me on new comments to this article on the above email-address.
You don't have to comment to start or stop notifications.

All comments will be screened by the GFF staff before publication.
No HTML, images, ads or links, please - we do not publish such comments...
And only English language comments will be published.
Name and email is optional but recommended.
The email will be shown in a disguised form in the final comment to protect you against spam
You can see other public comments on this page