|Doanes Falls Royalston, Mass. 5 Seconds|
The leaves are gone and we are thoroughly trapped in the November Stick season. For New England photographers this
|Senter Falls, Lyndeborough, NH, 1.3 Seconds|
My wife Susan is not a waterfall fan. When I show her a picture of a spectacular cascade with the water rendered, by long exposure, to a fairyland of tumbling, velvety folds, her reaction is always, "Yup, another waterfall". I am not discourage, but the question is, how to capture the experience of such a relentlessly kinetic phenomena into a static image. Short exposures can freeze interesting patterns in the tumbling water, but I love the soft mysterious waves that are revealed with longer exposures.
|Beaver Brook Falls, Colebrook, New Hampshire|
So what are the essentials of capturing waterfall magic.
|Arethusa Falls, 1/20 Second|
Get SteadyIt seems silly to have to say this, but waterfall photography requires a sturdy tripod. My only advice about tripods is spend the money to get a good one. If you buy a cheap tripod, you will be replacing it every few years and all you will ever have is a CHEAP tripod. An expensive tripod will be the only one you will ever need. It will save money in the long run and you will always have a GREAT tripod.
FiltersThe essential photographic filter is the polarizer, and this is
|Gleason Falls Bridge, Hillsborough, NH, 1 Second|
"Proper" Shutter SpeedI have often struggled to find a simple rule governing the correct exposure for flowing water and it was a desire to resolve this issue
|Forty Foot Falls, Surry, NH, 1.3 Seconds|
|Garwin Falls, Wilton, NH, 1.3 Seconds|
to surrender to a simple formula. The most important confounding factor, of course, is individual taste. We all have our own preferences for the degree of "velvetization". My overall goal for waterfalls is a shutter speed which is long enough to provide the velvety look without being so long as to render the water without any texture and interest. On average I find this to range between 0.25 and 1 second, but the best result is dependent on a number of factors, including the speed of the water, the depth, interruptions to flow and the distance from the falls.
The Speed of the flow depends on the height and steepness of the
|Chesterfield, NH, 0.6 Seconds is Too Slow|
falls unobstructed. Faster flows are best captured with faster shutter speeds to preserve a sense of texture.
Deep falls obscure the underlining rocks and depend on the water detail for visual interest making faster shutter speeds necessary. Here the water was fast and deep making 0.6 seconds too slow to record the water detail.
Obstructions such as rocks and ledges slow the flow, diverting and fanning the water into streams that can be captured at longer shutters before detail is lost.
|Forty Foot FallsTest|
|Moss Glenn Falls 10 Seconds|
All of these effects are blunted by greater distance from the subject. My more distant image from Moss Glen Falls in Granville, Vermont
was taken with full polarization and a 10 second exposure, but from this distant the interest came from the streaming and fanning of the water and was not weaken by the loss of surface texture.
Agonizing over all of these technical factors can be helpful, but they can also distract from the central fact, that waterfalls are actually pretty! So, use them to get a rough feeling for the shutter and then judge your results by zooming into the LCD to make necessary adjustments. When the LCD view is not enough, a little shutter bracketing can provide a little Velvet insurance in the digital darkroom.
Waterfalls remain one of my favorite natural subjects. Following a few simple guideline can assure spectacular results. With any luck, applying what I have learned, I may, someday, move Susan from "Yup, another waterfall" to her highest level of artistic enthusiasm, "Nice".