Waterfalls at Mid-Day?

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Ideal Waterfall Light.

If you’d ask me to describe my ideal weather and lighting conditions for photographing waterfalls I would tell you that I hope for an overcast day and with any luck a slight drizzle. I would also tell you that it is definitely not during the middle of the day under harsh sunlight.

If I can’t have the even light of an overcast day, or at the very least the waterfall is in full shade, I wouldn’t even try to photograph flowing water.

And yet I was working under the harsh light of the mid-day sun when I made the above photograph of Jackson Falls in Jackson, NH.

Even Is Even.

Last weekend I was out with a workshop client and during a break we stopped to check out this beautiful road side waterfall. I was certainly not thinking it was going to be at all photographable since it was 2 in the afternoon. As we admired the flow I started to notice something about the light. It occurred to me that the waterfall was indeed illuminated by even light. It wasn’t the beautifully soft light of an overcast day, but it was even light nonetheless. So to satisfy my own curiosity I set up my Fujifilm X-T2 with XF16mm f/1.4 lens. Knowing I was going to need help getting a long enough exposure time to blur the water I attached my Formatt-Hitech Firecrest filter holder to the lens and inserted a 10-stop neutral density filter. As I was setting up my composition I set the aperture to f/16 and the ISO to 200. Much to my surprise with the 10-stop ND filter I found I was indeed able to get a long enough exposure, to the tune of 26 second! After I took my first shot I knew I was on to something.

Lesson learned.

I’d still prefer to photograph waterfalls when its overcast and rainy out, but at least now I don’t automatically put the camera away when it’s not.

 

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Waterfall Wednesday

Time With Garwin Falls

It Depends. 

One of the questions I’m most often asked when it comes to photographing waterfalls is what camera settings I use, particularly what shutter speed.

And my answer is always the same, “It depends.”

It depends ~ On the look I’m going for. If I’m trying to capture the shapes and swirls created by bubble caught in an eddy, I know I’ll need a longer exposure time. The image above required 8 seconds to achieve the look I was after.

It depends ~ On how fast the water is flowing. The stronger the flow the shorter the shutter speed required to capture the silky smooth look on the water.

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A few weeks ago Mossy Glen was flowing very quickly due to recent spring rains, therefor I only needed a half second exposure time when making the above photo.

It depends ~  On the amount of ambient light you’re working with. This next photo, of Middle Ammonoosuc Falls in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest, was made well after the sun had gone down. It was getting quite dark in the deep gorge the falls flows through so I knew I was going to need a very long exposure. The exposure time on this photo is 180 seconds.

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So as you can see there is no one set rule I follow when deciding on what shutter speed. Generally speaking I do try for at least half a second, but if the light is right or I really want to capture bubbles or leaves swirling on the currents I’ll experiment until I’ve captured the look I want.

And One Filter To Rule Them All

The One Filter You Can’t Live Without.

The Weekly Photo Challenge topic is Landscape, so rather than simply share a few landscape photos I’m going to talk about the one filter that should be in every nature and landscape photographers camera bag.

The one filter that cannot be duplicated in the computer, and the one filter I never leave home without.

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Straight out of camera, without polarizer.

 

That filter is the Circular Polarizer.

You can duplicate graduated neutral density filters all day long in Lightroom.

You can even simulate the effect of a straight neutral density filter simply by photographing in lower light, using smaller apertures, or lower ISO settings, thus allowing you to get longer exposure times.

However when it comes to removing the glare on shiny reflective surfaces like wet rocks and leaves, or the reflections on the surface of a flowing stream to reveal the stream bed below, there is only one way to do it. And that is with a good quality Circular Polarizer filter, or CPL for short.

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Same scene and camera settings, this time using a polarizer.

What does a Circular Polarizer do?

A circular polarizer is a filter that attaches to the front of your lens, usually by screwing onto the front filter threads. (Now you know why those threads are there 😉 )

What does a CPL do?

Notice how in the first image the colors are much less saturated and the details below the waters surface are much less visible. The is cause by glare. Notice how in the second image, shot using the same exposure settings,* the colors are richer, more saturated, and there is more visible detail under the water.

While a CPL can also help increase contrast and saturation in a photo,  both of these can be duplicated in the computer, glare and reflection removal can’t.

*Note: The second image is darker due to the ability of the Circular Polarizer to reduce the amount of light by as much as 2-stops. This is an added benefit when trying to use longer exposure times to capture flowing water with that silky smooth look.

The Benefits Continue Into The Final Image.

The better the image you get straight out of the camera the better the final image will be after post processing. The following are the above two images, processed as identically as I could. While this is totally subjective on my part the second image, the one where the circular polarizer was used, is the better final image.

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Final enhanced image using the RAW file captured without the use of a CPL

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Final enhanced image using the RAW file captured using a CPL

Tips On Buying And Using A Circular Polarizer.

1 – Buy the best you can afford. 

Cheap CPL filters can cause image softness as well as impart a color cast on your photo. I’ve used CPLs from B+W, Lee, and Singh Ray with excellent results. Be forewarned, good filters are not inexpensive, though in my opinion you get what you pay for. For more budget friendly CPL filters, check out Tiffen, or Hoya. I have no experience with the latter two, but I have read good things about their line of filters.

2 – Avoid using a CPL when photographing wide scenes.

One thing polarizers do very well is darken blue sky. Too well if you over adjust the filter. BUT, and it’s a big but, the effect of a CPL is greatest at 90° to the light source, for a landscape photographer this is likely the sun. The effect is reduced more and more as the angle to the sun changes. This is a big problem when photographing wide scenic landscapes with a lot of sky. The result will be part of the sky will be noticeably darker when gradually fading across the frame. This is a royal pain in the backside – by that I mean darn near impossible –  to correct in the computer.

3 – Don’t for get to readjust when you recompose.

You can adjust the amount of polarization on the image by rotating the filter. As mentioned above the greatest effect is at 90° to the sun. So once you adjust the amount of polarization you want in an image and then move the camera for another composition, don’t forget to readjust the filter. I find it to be much easier to see the effect in live view rather than looking thru the viewfinder, but that could just be my aging eyes.

4 – You only need one.  

Some of you may be thinking, “I have more than one lens that I use for landscape/waterfalls. Do I need a filter for each lens?” The answer is no.

Buy a filter that will fit the lens you own with the largest diameter filter threads. The buy inexpensive step-down rings to fit the filter to all of your other lenses.

 

Up Close And Personal

When photographing landscapes, especially with a wide angle lens, I often place my lens closeup to my foreground element. Doing so accentuates the prominence of your foreground in the composition by giving the illusion that it is larger than it really is.

Below are a few examples of how I used a wide angle lens to showcase the importance of the foreground within each scene.

Take a look at these other Closeups in this weeks photo challenge.

Thirds And Symmetry

The First Rule.

Know it.

Frozen Climb

One of the first “Rules” of photography that most people learn when first starting out is the Rule Of Thirds. 

When composing a photograph, visualize a grid across the scene, dividing it into thirds vertically and horizontally. Just like in a game of tic-tac-toe. For a more dynamic composition you should place your main subject at one of the intersections of these imaginary lines or along one of the lines themselves.

You should avoid placing your subject dead center in the frame. In the case of landscape photos you should also avoid placing the horizon through the center of the frame, placing it instead on or near one of the imaginary horizontal lines either 1/3 up from the bottom or 1/3 down from the top.

Pretty simple, right?

Then break it.

Cherry Pond Blue Hour Reflections

Photography rules were made to be broken.

In this case, due to the Symmetry of the reflection, placing the horizon line perfectly centered in the frame works quite well.

What other instances can you think of where you can break the Rule Of Thirds and still make a good photograph? What about using symmetry in your compositions?

Depth, Creating The Illusion.

The Problem With Landscape Photography.Lead The Way

We see the world around us in three dimensions, unfortunately our camera does not. Trying to convey the depth and dimension our eyes see with the two dimensional medium of photography can often leave the final image looking flat, without depth.

Fortunately, by using a few simple tricks when composing your photos you can effectively create the illusion of depth in your landscape images.

Converging Lines.

Falls In The Forest.

I like to use converging lines, both subtle and obvious, to create perceived depth in my compositions. In the photo above I used a rather winding interpretation of converging lines to help create the illusion of depth.

The waterfall and granite stream bank, very wide and taking up the entire foreground, then gets progressively more narrow while leading the eye deeper into the frame, eventually converging at the point where it disappears into the forest.

Railroad tracks as they appear to come together in the distance are another more obvious example of converging lines.

Rails. Pondicherry NWR

Place The Foreground In Shadow.

Odiorne Salt MarshThe human eye is attracted to bright light. By having a prominent foreground appear darker than the brighter, more brightly lit background can provide a sense of depth in your photos.

Shoot Vertical.

Moonrise Over Lonesome LakeI’ve found that by photographing with the camera in the vertical, more commonly referred to at the “portrait” camera position, can help create depth. Include a strong foreground, leading lines, and by placing the main subject in the upper third of the photo works really well to bring out the depth in a scene.

What tricks do you use to create the illusion of depth in your photos? In the mean time, check out these other interpretations of Depth.

Better Photography Takes More Than A Fancy Camera.

I my latest article for the New England Photography Guild I share a few tips on how to take your photography past the snap-shot and on to creating beautiful and compelling photographs.  

None of the tips involves buying any new gear, except maybe an alarm clock. 😉

Snap-shot, Mad River Falls

Hand-held, snap-shot. Camera on full auto setting.

Mad River Falls, Farmington, NH

Tripod mounted and set to Manual. Quite a difference.