Tips For Getting Smooth Long-Exposure Water If You Don’t Have An ND Filter

In Lightroom, Photography, Photoshop by Matt K8 Comments

Last week, I co-hosted DTown TV with RC Concepcion and I mentioned a little trick that I used on the photo above (click on the photo to see it larger). It has to do with getting that smooth silky water effect (or anything in motion for that matter) when you don’t have an ND filter.

The Tip: Overexpose the Crap Out of the Photo
Shocking huh? But it works. You’d be amazed at how much detail there is in your photos in the highlight areas if you shoot in raw. Here’s a quick video I recorded that shows you exactly how powerful this tip can be and just how much detail is really in your photos, even if you originally think the photo is too far gone to salvage.

Another Tip: Make Sure Your Highlight Clipping Warnings Are Turned On
Make sure you turn on your highlight clipping warnings in your camera so you can see what’s blown out and what’s not. See, one of the problems with this technique is that it’s impossible to tell you exactly what setting is going to work, and what won’t work. That’s why it’s ALWAYS better to try to use an ND filter and do this the right way. But I can tell you this. Take a look at the photo below. Relatively speaking, the highlight warning (the stuff in red here) is there, but it’s not really bad which which means most of the detail is recoverable.

Now take a look at this photo. If you see this much blinking at you (the red stuff) then you’re probably past the point of no return, and you won’t be able to salvage it even with the best Photoshop, Lightroom or Camera Raw have to offer.

As I mentioned, I’d much rather get something like this right in the camera. We all would right? But if you’re as forgetful as me, then you’re probably in the “I forgot my filter” situation more times that you care to admit (do you like how I threw the forgetfulness back on you? It makes me feel better to think others are as absent-minded as I am) 😉

Thanks for stopping by. Have a great day!


  1. Peter Nord

    I hadn’t realized how well PhotoShop could bring back an over exposed image. Now I am wondering how a ND filtered water image compares with a no filter stack mode series processed with mean or median, never can remember which it is. Going to try this on the local fountain.

  2. Robert DeNichilo

    I noticed that you used camera raw rather than Lightroom. Do you find a difference with the amount of correction you can make to exposure, etc. with camera raw vs Lightroom? I never use camera raw and this makes me wonder if I should start playing with it.

  3. gizmo

    For years we’ve been told to watch our histograms and expose to the left because if a highlight was clipped we couldn’t get it back (better to deal with the noise in the shadows than lost highlights). Recently I’m seeing more and more suggestions to expose to the other end and let LR get the highlight details back. When did this change and what magic is Adobe doing to recover what was previously though lost?

    1. Author
      Matt Kloskowski

      Hi Gizmo. To answer your questions…
      I don’t know… and.. I don’t know. But I have to say I kinda like it. It’s been really helpful to know I can recover that stuff if I need to. That said, the technology has been there in Lightroom and Camera Raw for a few years now. Its probably just now making it out more mainstream though. Take care.

  4. Stephen Godfrey

    That is a good one, anything trick is to take several shots and blend them together in photoshop. For example if the exposure time is 1/8sec then you can take 8 shots for a one second exposure.

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