Wispy falls

NPhoto - - Special Feature -

What’s the ef­fect? Pro­duc­ing the ‘silky wa­ter’ ef­fect in a wa­ter­fall shot can be easy to achieve, but it de­pends on a num­ber of fac­tors: the vol­ume of wa­ter, the cam­era an­gle, and the type of wa­ter­fall all have a bear­ing on the shut­ter speed used.

There has long been a de­bate on whether it’s bet­ter to use a long or short ex­po­sure to pho­to­graph wa­ter­falls. A short ex­po­sure will ren­der the wa­ter look­ing frozen, giv­ing the im­pres­sion of tremen­dous power, while a longer ex­po­sure of at least 1 sec will turn it silky smooth for a dreamy look. Some peo­ple may dis­like this ‘milky’ tex­ture, but it does come down to per­sonal pref­er­ence.

If there is a lot of wa­ter spilling over the falls, use a slightly shorter ex­po­sure, oth­er­wise it could be­come just a fea­ture­less white veil. This is es­pe­cially true if your cam­era an­gle is straight on to the falls. Con­sider also the type of wa­ter­fall you’re shoot­ing. I pre­fer ones with lots of ledges for the wa­ter to cas­cade over.

What’s the time? There isn’t one ex­po­sure time that works for all wa­ter­falls, as a num­ber of fac­tors have to be con­sid­ered. How­ever, you will def­i­nitely need a tri­pod for this tech­nique.

Many wa­ter­falls are si­t­u­ated in the depths of forests. This is good, as dark con­di­tions nat­u­rally re­quire a longer shut­ter speed, and di­rect sun­light can re­sult in very high-con­trast im­ages. Over­cast con­di­tions are the best for shoot­ing for­est wa­ter­falls.

I al­ways use a po­lar­is­ing fil­ter to cut the re­flec­tions from the fo­liage and the high­lights on the wa­ter, but this also cuts one to two stops of light go­ing through the lens, so re­quires a longer shut­ter speed.

The aper­ture you use will have a bear­ing on the shut­ter speed. You could shoot at a small aper­ture such as f/16 or f/22 to achieve a long enough ex­po­sure, and this is great if you also need more depth of field be­cause you are in­clud­ing some­thing in the fore­ground, but it is not ideal for get­ting the sharpest pos­si­ble im­ages. I try to use my op­ti­mal aper­ture of f/8 with my Nikon 24- 70mm lens when­ever pos­si­ble. In or­der to shoot at f/8 and still get a long enough ex­po­sure, I use the Lee Lit­tle Stop­per Neu­tral Den­sity fil­ter. This blocks out six stops of light, per­mit­ting long ex­po­sures even in bright day­light con­di­tions.

I shot this im­age of Iguazu Falls at f/8 and a shut­ter speed of 3 secs us­ing a po­lar­is­ing fil­ter plus the Lee Lit­tle Stop­per. Com­pare it with the inset im­age of the falls, shot at 1/160 sec; as you can see, the inset im­age doesn’t have the same ap­peal.

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