November Theme Challenge – “Waterfalls Again”

This month I encourage you to create an image using slower shutter speeds to show motion in water. Now that we are getting some rain the streams and rivers are starting to show signs of water again, so it’s a great time to get out and try taking waterfall images. Spend the time creating a good composition, you will be rewarded with not only great images but a nice relaxing adventure listening to the water.

Choosing the right weather conditions is important when to go out shooting waterfalls, overcast conditions or early morning as well as late in the day when there is dappled light works very well. Even on damp days just before it starts to rain or just after, the colours appear more saturated especially in the fall adding even more to your final image.

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f/16, 1.6sec, ISO 100, @24mm

Shutter speed is typically chosen in relation to the amount of water that is flowing. If there is a lot of water the shutter speed does not have to be as slow. With less water the shutter speed needs to be a bit slower to show the motion. Some like the slow shutter speed effect because it gives the viewer a calming feeling. In the images below you can see the water appears smooth but still shows detail, this adds the dimension of motion to the image. Remember you want the water to appear white but not over exposed, so watch your histogram and highlight alert.

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f/11, 1.3 sec, ISO 100, @24mm

The use of a circular polarizer filter will help take the sheen off the water as well as the shine off the rocks, and also prove a bit more color saturation. Think about your shutter speed to create the look you are going for, if you use too long of a shutter speed your water may no longer show any detail and just be complete white mist. The more water which would typically cause the water to move faster you would not use too slow of a shutter speed. Using a circular polarizer also reduces the light by 1 to 1 1/2 stops of light helping to get a slower shutter speed.

Don’t limit yourself to one composition or wide angle lens, use a longer focal length (zoom lens) and even vertical compositions to isolate the scene to reach places you are not able to physically get closer to. Spend time working the location, these simple techniques will help you create a different image such as the one shown below.

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f/11, 0.6 sec, ISO 50, @110mm

When using slower shutter speeds, you will need to stabilize your camera typically using a tripod, gorilla pod, or platypod. Even setting your camera on a solid surface works if it provides an acceptable composition. In any case use caution at waterfall locations, wear good rubber boots so you don’t slip and fall on the wet rocks especially with wet leaves in the fall.

As far as camera settings go start with your lowest ISO, typically 100, set your Aperture somewhere between f/8 – f/16 to obtain a shutter somewhere between 1/4 sec to 2 sec. Your ideal shutter speed is dictated by how much water and how fast the water is moving. Check your images to make sure your images have the right balance between silky smooth and detail.

Your focus point is determined by the depth of field required to ideally have a sharp image from front to back. In general if you are using a wide angle lens the hyperfocal distance should be close to 1/3 into the scene. Please refer to my blog posts on focusing Depth of Field and hyperfocal distance. If you are using a longer focal length, focus on the main subject and take into consideration the depth of field when choosing your aperture, focal length and how close you are to the subject.

If possible clean up any debris that would distract from the image. However, sometimes this is not possible as seen in the image below. The small branch that was on the rock to the upper left I was not able to reach to remove it.

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f/16, 1/8 sec, ISO 100, @24mm

Students are encouraged to develop their ability to tell a story or invoke an emotion, as well as how to plan and troubleshoot while creating their images. As such it’s important to not only create the image but to also include a “title”, and write a short paragraph about; how they came up with the idea, any interesting back ground that compelled them to make the image, and describe any techniques on how they overcame any obstacles.

As always with our monthly theme challenges we try to seek out an instructional resource, below are some YouTube video links to help with some important tips, hints and ideas.
Waterfall Photography instructional aids:
Photographing waterfalls with landscape photographer Sarah Howard of Image Seen: by Sarah Howard (10min 28sec)
How to Photograph Waterfalls – Landscape Photography Waterfall Tutorial: by David Johnston (15min 3sec)

An important part of improving your photography is practice, which is one aspect of the monthly theme challenge, in addition you have an opportunity to learn about different genres, techniques and tips.