Photographing waterfalls - Tactics, Techniques and Procedures

Discussion in 'Landscape' started by michaelorr, Jul 14, 2017.

  1. michaelorr

    michaelorr Subscriber

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    Borrowing from the US Army Doctrine manual on TTP's, in civilian life maybe it is "best practices".

    Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF) is a question - Is it time at the scene, or experience, or some "special sauce" that better assures being able to bring a special view into an exposure, negative? How better to achieve success more often?

    My post here is about composition of waterfalls, but it could easily apply to any scene probably in landscapes. It is almost "deflating" to pull a negative out of soup, especially one that takes some effort to make in the setting, to feel it is so diminished from the look and feel of standing in the spot.

    I have an image in my gallery of "Stairs Fall" which was so exciting seeing how that negative printed. I loved the place i was standing, the peace, quiet, solitude, and light seemed to me to be present in the print as i had appreciated as i was there. I truly enjoyed the time i spent there finding a nice composition, setting up the 8x10, and exposing the negative. I keep that print at my desk at work and look over to it often each day like it is a sip of water in a parched space. Having spent all afternoon hiking up 1000ft elevation gain and a couple miles of trail for three falls, i was pleased all three came out ok.

    The attached is lower Thompson Falls in The White Mountains, New Hampshire, at Pinkham's Notch the base of Wildcat Mountain. Taken weekend preceding 4th July.

    When i first viewed the film, my first reaction was ok, nice falls, but so what. It didn't have some special quality that i feel was captured on film.

    I think i did an ok job of "documenting" this nice falls, but it doesn't make so much a great photograph, print in bringing this setting into the feeling. But the more i look at it now, the more i am appreciating it.

    I will take it again - there is an upper falls that i failed to move on to; and the exposure of this negative is too low, not enough density to suit me.

    Done on HP5 with Deardorff 8x10. Metered with Pentax spotmeter and taken with Fuji 450mm lens. 1/4 second exposure, f32. developed Perceptol 1+2 @72F for 18 min. Very poor "scan" using olympus TG-5 P/S camera of the negative on light box. Reversed and resized in Corel PSP.
     

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  2. oldtimermetoo

    oldtimermetoo Subscriber

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    In your description of the waterfall picture by your desk, I noticed that you, possibly, made a point that you were at the scene by yourself. I have read articles and heard good photographers say that they do their best work when they are alone with the scene and experienced what you so well described. Were you alone when you took the picture that disappointed you? Interesting, very interesting!.....Regards!
     
  3. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    Nice picture of the falls. But as you noted, not a great photograph. Composition issues, mostly. At first look, I was just blocked by the falls, not invited into the image. Once I found a way in, my eye is drawn to the brightness on the left which then just goes off the image. Not a lot of depth] to the image.

    I had to wait for two women to get off the log and leave (hopefully, and thankfully, without anyone else showing up):
     

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    michaelorr

    michaelorr Subscriber

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    My hiking buddy with me at Thompson. Absolutely no distractions - no other persons were there i had the whole falls to myself. My hiking buddy is not a photographer but he was having a blast being "assistant" and pulling out of the pack the light meter, filter, film holder, darkcloth, was really attentive to what i needed and when with each venue we shot.

    At Stairs, a couple hikers passing by over the time that i spent there, but they were no bother and did not disrupt the time i had otherwise in solitude soaking it all up. I cannot tell you how special the light was, the sound, the air quality - the feel of the place. I was on rocks or in shallow water while setting up the tripod and camera. For this hike, i had about 4 hours to make a 2 1/2 miles hike up 1000ft with 35 lbs of camera pack plus tripod and bag of film holders. Tripod was my hiking pole on a single track path on the edge of the ravines the falls were running through. There were three falls to photograph on that hike.

    Maybe, just, I spent more time at Stairs just loving the moment, than at Thompson, where i felt more having an objective just to photograph but not putting myself into the moment to enjoy. That would be a terrible mistake perhaps..... @oldtimermetoo maybe you are teasing out the problem.
     
  5. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    Can you find a little higher vantage point? I think that might be nice -- showing the water approaching the falls as a way to get the eye to go back into the image.
     
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    michaelorr

    michaelorr Subscriber

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    @Vaughn what a brilliant photograph! The falls is the subject, but the greater setting, and the sunlight in the upper parts of the trees add so much.

    for this falls, i was at the last accessible vantage point as i recall, until i would be right at the transition. trail was to the right of the falls and continued up along that stream. I did not study for very long photographing from the top looking downstream - that may have been an interesting and novel perspective.

    Stairs, i did take a different vantage point than most would have ventured, as it required crossing nearly the whole pool/stream below the falls (which were only 20ft high).

    I came into Thompson Falls knowing that i liked the rocks and the way the water fell over it. So, when i got there, that was all i saw and and all i photographed. maybe if i used the 240mm, and made it portrait orientation, it would have captured more what was important to the scene. But i did think i was standing in front of a landscape orientation, and like some of the detail of the rock and the water flow "lanes".

    Now, two for two learning points here - don't prejudge, or presume what may be important - but study what is there and make fresh evaluation. Darned internet pictures!
     
  7. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    One of the problems with photographing something like a waterfall is that experiencing the waterfall in the first place is a multi-sensory experience. if you are trying to present the experience in its entirety in a photograph you need to supply visual clues to replace the important non-visual elements.
    What visual elements constitute allegories for the roar of the water, the smell of the moisture in the air or the feel of the cool mist and breeze on your face? if you have good answers for those questions, you will be a long way toward success.
    Vaughan's wonderful example is successful for many reasons, but pre-eminent in my mind is that it puts two impressively massive natural features against each other, and the resulting internal comparison makes each of them appear greater.
     
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    michaelorr

    michaelorr Subscriber

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    @MattKing , very sobering insight, under the hood and subtle, but effective and important. I feel i have missed the deeper thought that some settings may require to get right. Getting it right for me seems to be accidental.

    By the way, Matt, i love to this day your ground cover foliage photograph - amazing sharpness and contrast. just a beautiful photograph.

    I didn't see @Vaughn 's image in the same manner as you articulated - i think i am missing the mark in this way in my photography. Great impressions expressed. Thanks to you both.

    I am glad i posted this thread and appreciate the insight!
     
  9. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Thanks!

    You don't wan't to blame yourself for seeing something in a different way. You should instead celebrate the fact that you see it that way.
    Although it would only be fair to also credit Vaughan for creating such a complex and multi-faceted photograph - one that can bear the weight of many different impressions.
     
  10. dasBlute

    dasBlute Subscriber

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    The primary question is, “why do I photograph?” Each image is an attempt to answer this enduring question. What is so compelling, so beautiful, hateful, magical, mundane, sublime, disturbing, or divine enough for me to want to point a camera at it? What do I see and feel, and how on earth do I attempt to communicate that with the tools at hand? In your description, you talk about how hard it was to get to that place. But I don’t feel that from the image.

    To me, it’s an up-close, ‘documentary’ image, perhaps too close, as if you ‘own’ the falls, like you’ve hunted it down. The close cropping side-to-side and at the top feels ‘tight’, ignores the forest and leaves little context, which often helps to ‘tell the story’ as Vaughn’s image did so well…

    Maybe these falls cannot be explained so well photographically, often the scene will not ‘fit’ into the camera, or you can’t attain the perfect vantage point, etc.

    This is a fine image of a waterfall, if you feel it doesn’t work, why not? Your answer is more important than ours...
     
  11. Slixtiesix

    Slixtiesix Subscriber

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    Barry Thornton once gave a great advice for shooting running water. Instead of doing just a single long exposure, he used several shorter multi-exposures. He mentioned that this gives the viewer the feeling of movement.
     
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    michaelorr

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    I should have used the 240mm. I am up close because that is the only viewpoint that i could get without ratty obstructions. But the falls running off the paper to the left, and being chopped off to the right, has blown it.
    I think of this falls as being a landscape configuration, being broad, not tall, but it would probably be a much better photograph in portrait orientation and bringing to bear the mountain that rises above it..

    I took the photograph exactly as i went there to take - that was my purpose and it failed. It certainly documented what i was after.
     
  13. Kevin Caulfield

    Kevin Caulfield Subscriber

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    Three words, summarised in three letters. NDF. Just a suggestion and one I should follow myself.
     
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  15. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    do you have a version printed it down with more contrast yet ?
    i love waterfall photographs like you took but really dark and chalky water ..
    so it almost glows from the mist ...
     
  16. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    Thanks for the comments on my image. My first image I took from this spot, I had the waterfall centered right-left. I was photographing the waterfall. On the second image (shown) I placed the waterfall off to the side because I realized that it was the light I was seeing and wanting to photograph. The light falling in torrents into the canyon turning into liquid. I photographed the light.

    I have never be happy about this image below. I photographed from the only available spot. It is an okay portrait of the fall, but that is all it is -- for me, not a lot of depth. I printed it, but never took it any further. A 4x5 negative, 150mm lens.
     

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    Last edited: Jul 15, 2017
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    michaelorr

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    @Kevin Caulfield i get BTDT, WTF and others, but NDF? it is either very obvious or very down under.

    @Vaughn i like it, anyway! It may be a straight print, straight exposure, etc. but it is a rather nice falls nicely framed.

    @Slixtiesix yes i have seen that advice in his Edge Of Darkness book (one of my favorite and most studied - another terrible loss). i have no practice in doing it thataway, so i wasn't going to start with my 8x10. I should, though, practice a bit with my Chamonix 4x5 locally and get the hang of it and its aesthetic. Barry's came out nice - he used his 120 SL-66 i think. But even making these photographs in this style, does not change that getting the composition right in the first place. I do seem to miss some of the essential elements that make a picture a photograph, and a photograph an image that has qualities that rise above "so what..." I showed the scan to my hiking buddy and said "so - what?" His response was "I like it". OK, but it is confirmed that it has a lot of problems that if i would spend more patient time, and not have a preconceived plan on approaching, woujld have been significantly better. I am already thinking through the possibilities, and want to return and re-do.
    @dasBlute cutting to the core - my photograph, i need to answer my own question - i accept this challenge with appreciation.
     
  18. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    Walk around more and take photographs from different locations and views. Eventually you will develop [pun intended] an eye for the better compositions.
     
  19. Maris

    Maris Member

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    Here's a dubious rule I heard about thirty years ago:
    "The correct shutter speed for a waterfall is the reciprocal of the percentage of the picture area that is taken up by water".
    If the water is 1% of the picture use 100 seconds. If the water area is 50% use 2 seconds. And so on ....
     
  20. Craig75

    Craig75 Member

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    I'd turn contrast up and crop it and see where I was after that.

    There's a shot in there but you will need to work it up.

    I'd get those trees burned in, that rock looking darker, wetter, more solid, get that foreground water burned in to give base of pic some solidity - work the tones of picture so its looks as dramatic and powerful as it would have felt standing in front of it
     
  21. Vaughn

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    I'm guess my NZ waterfall takes up 60% -- so instead of 60/100, the exposure should be 100/60 secs, or 1.7 seconds. That is what I did wrong -- I used 1/30th of a sec! (lots of falling-water-caused breeze) If my reasoning is correct, 1/30th of a sec would only be correct if the water takes up 3000% of the scene. "Dubious" is correct!
    :cool:
     
  22. esearing

    esearing Subscriber

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    I have been shooting a lot of falls myself lately and each has its challenges. I've actually worn waders and stood midstream to capture a couple.

    Observations:
    3+ seconds of exposure , stop down to at least f22 or use ND filter, Pay attention to logs and "pointing" items in the shot.
    Cloudy but bright days are best or early morning/late day light. High contrast in the scene is harder to work with than a softer overall lit shot here in the Georgia Mountains.
    If the overall scene is forested and dark I expose for shadows and record where the White water falls and adjust development.
    I like a bit more contrast in my negatives for waterfalls so I don't have to work so hard on the print. +5% if Normal.
    Paper - Try Glossy neutral tone first and find contrast that you like. If you usually use warm tone paper, boost contrast or burn time with split grade magenta.
    If the falls are wide - shoot horizontally - wide angle lens closer in is more dramatic.
    if the falls are tall - shoot vertically from further back using longer lens.
    a vantage point at about 1/3rd from bottom seems to give better results than being at bottom.
    Revisit after rains if not enough water in initial shots
    Delta vs FP4 - I'm leaning these days to the smoothness of FP4 since I use Pyrocat HD with minimal agitation scheme. However Delta in HC110 gives punchy negatives (for me).

    Some I haven't tried yet but intend to:
    - if the foreground pool of water is relatively calm try using a polarizer to reduce reflection, there may be interesting details below the surface.
    - orange or red filter to darken green foliage
    - Think Diptych or Triptych for wide falls.
    - Toning / lith redevelopment - some falls may work well.

    Just my $0.02
     
  23. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    I use 1/4 second for close waterfalls, 1/2 second to 1 second for distinct waterfalls [or use percentage of photograph]. I started with taking several photographs from1/10 to 1 second range and looking at the results to get a feel for the exposure time.
     
  24. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    michaelorr ,
    While the critiques are worth considering, I immediately felt the triangular slab, and thought this a straightforward portrait of "that"

    When I approach nature I sometimes look at "the thing" and arrange "it" to show it at its best. I think you did a fine job of that.
     
  25. Kevin Caulfield

    Kevin Caulfield Subscriber

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    Sorry Michael, I just noticed your question. NDF = neutral density filter, as also suggested by others. Just to give yourself longer exposures.
     
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    michaelorr

    michaelorr Subscriber

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    @Kevin Caulfield - gotcha, thanks, makes sense; also @esearing on the NDF tip.

    @Sirius Glass i have been in that range but couldn't link it as nicely - my photograph of Glen Ellis is an example of not knowing when i should adjust. And as i recall, i made that exact observation at Glen Ellis that i should think through the shutter speed, but had no basis to change. I really couldn't read the speed and bulk of the falling water and what that means on film at one or another shutter speed.

    @MattKing the triangle - i didn't see that - pretty cool "see" . I received a pm from another apug subscriber validating your view. It could be as simple as first pointed out by @Vaughn fix the cropping and get more of the wings into the composition - cropped too closely with the camera to improve. I did have an intent to get some detail of the rock and the water. My hiking buddy likes this image.

    I do want to go back to Thompson Falls, revisit this with the camera and see if i can get into the pool with a 240mm lens, plus seek out the upper falls that i didn't explore this first trip.

    I appreciate all this feedback from every comment made - even the "dubious" stuff. Time is precious so thanks for yours here. The feedback makes it all interesting and keeps it challenging and fun. If i can't have fun taking these photographs, then it isn't worth taking this camera out. And, on that point, i never tire of just staring at a ground glass of images! WOW it is magic, even if i don't load a film. I do this for therapy, not for the "kill". The three pointer comes with a workable negative.

    Not to dismiss @Vaughn great photography skill, but that must be some special falls - it is staring quality. In person, must really be an experience.