Remember the glorious waterfall featured in my May 4th post? This view was on the other side of the road bridge. The water may appear to be flowing upward in the image, but the view is actually of the water flowing downstream. This photo serves as an important reminder about turning around to discover another composition. The scene looked so magical that one might suspect a woodland fairy was lurking right behind that tree!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
My dear friend, Ms. Vee (A Haven for Vee), kindly asked me to offer some tips on how to photograph streams and waterfalls, like this example. I am happy to oblige. The April workshop was the first time I have ever tried the technique.
- An overcast day is best for soft, diffused light. A recent rain offers even better conditions because the foliage and rocks are more attractive when they are wet. Springtime in the Smokies is a prime time for roadside waterfalls. However, the water may be muddy looking if your photo shoot is too soon after a heavy rain.
- A steady tripod is essential because the silky look of the water is achieved by a long exposure. My camera shutter was open six seconds for the image shown above.
- Use a circular polarizer on your lens. Rotate the filter to reduce optical glare in the water and on the foliage. The filter also reduces light to the camera’s sensor, thus requiring longer shutter speeds.
- Use a cloudy white balance setting or else use the auto setting. I use auto white balance the vast majority of the time and make any needed adjustments during editing. In the image above, I selectively warmed up the tree trunk and large boulder.
- Set the camera on aperture priority, and use a small aperture (e.g., f/22).
- Meter the camera’s exposure for the water, which is the brightest part of the scene. Use the histogram reading that is built into your camera! Most of my shots of streams and waterfalls were taken with an exposure compensation of -1 (a full stop underexposed).
- Use spot focusing, about a third of the way into the frame. Check focusing throughout the scene.
- Wait for no breeze.
- Use a remote release or timer on the camera.
- Take several shots to get different movements of the water and in case of possible wind movements.
- Edit with photography software. Don’t be shy about it either! This is landscape photography, not photojournalism. I always work hard to ensure correct white balance; remove objectionable color casts (e.g., blue haze on water); enhance foliage color; add contrast; clone out spots that are distracting; tone down light areas that divert attention away from the subject; sharpen; etc. I use several plug-in filters, such as Nik and Topaz, to augment Photoshop tools. Oh yes, and I shoot in RAW format so that I have the maximum amount of digital information at my disposal!