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Fotospeed Photographers

Tony Worobiec: The Flooded Landscape

Posted: 18 Feb 2020

Tony Worobiec is a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society and one of our Fotospeed photographers. He has won awards for photography both in the UK and internationally and has authored 16 books. In this blog post, Tony discusses a very current topic; The Flooded Landscape, and how you can take advantage to get some masterful shots.

Possibly as a consequence of global warming, the incidence of flooding appears to be increasing. One hopes that much of this is managed and that not too many lives are affected, but it is yet another of those transformational features which temporarily at least, has an effect on the landscape. 

It should be noted that there are two kinds of flooding; the first and possibly the easiest to photograph are areas that regularly flood such as estuaries and water meadows. Flooding tends to occur in the winter months and everything appears quite managed. By way of contrast, flooding can also occur quite unpredictably as a result of a relatively short but very violent thunderstorm; with the drainage systems unable to cope. Large and destructive volumes of water cascade downstream, often causing quite serious damage. 

Photographing areas of managed flooding.



Certain areas are more prone to flooding than others; land near an estuary is likely to be flooded almost on an annual basis and so too are water meadows. Just occasionally, land adjacent to a river or stream can be flooded but thankfully that is a little less common. The vegetation in areas that regularly flood is well suited to the conditions, comprising largely of reeds and tall grasses.  While dowdy for much of the year, water meadows can often appear spectacularly beautiful in late Spring and early Summer, often carpeted in flowers, because the soil is both fertile and damp. 

Areas that flood rarely remain so for long, so you do need to take your opportunity to photograph them as quickly as possible. The best time to take your shots is early in the morning or during the evening as the sun is setting. If you are able to find a location that faces either the rising or setting sun, you should be able to capture some spectacular reflections. It also helps if there is little or no wind; even a slight breeze can create ripples which diminishes the clarity of the reflection. 



Point to consider when photographing flooding. 

1) The best time to photograph flooded locations is at dawn or dusk, as this is the time of day the sky will appear it’s most dramatic; the strength of the lighting, however, will be considerably reduced, so it is worth considering using a tripod. If that is not possible, then you may need to increase your ISO rating. 

2) When photographing estuaries or water meadows, as appealing as they may appear it should be remembered that the ground is likely to be extremely boggy, so you should certainly be wearing wellington boots. Moreover, it is not an environment that makes it easy to change lenses (it’s not as if you can place your camera bag on the ground), so decide to work with one lens, (possibly a zoom), and stick with it.

3) From a compositional standpoint, flooding has the capacity to simplify the landscape which of course can add interest. Features such as trees and posts are left marooned in the water, which makes an obvious photographic focal point. As the water is unlikely to be deep, it remains relatively still, resulting in wonderful mirrored images. 

4) While there’s a temptation to venture into a flooded area, don't overlook the opportunity to use a long lens. Using such lenses not only offers some measure of convenience but allows you to photograph relatively distant objects. 



5) This is another occasion when using a polarising filter might help. A polarising filter not only increases colour saturation, but it is also useful for cutting out unwanted reflections, particularly in the flooded areas of the landscape. 

6) On a similar tack, don't overlook the advantages of using graduated filters, particularly if you decide to include the sky in your photograph. The exposure difference between the sky and the foreground can typically be as much as three stops and using a 0.9 soft graduated filter is one way of overcoming this.

7) Sometimes you are able to capture the detail of the sky perfectly reflected in the still water; if so, don't worry about the rule of thirds and instead place the horizon right in the middle of the composition. This way, you are clearly making a statement about the relationship between the still water and the sky.

I make no secret of my love of Fotospeed's wonderful range of papers, especially Platinum Matt 280; smooth, but without any shine, it seems to retain subtle landscape detail like no other paper I know. 



Damaging floods. 

As these tend to be unpredictable, they are rarely photographed unless you are unfortunate enough to be near, or in its path. If you have witnessed such events, you will be aware that fast-flowing water can carry away pretty much anything in its path, including fallen trees and even stranded cars. If you are photographing, you’d do well to stay clear. If you are able to secure a safe vantage point, then clearly there will be interesting photographic opportunities. 


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