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Canon 1Ds Mk III, 20 sec, @f/ 16, ISO 400, 20mm (17-40L f/4 USM lens)

This was a rather long exposure for a waterfall at around 20 sec, but I wanted to capture the swirling leaf in the foreground as it made its way around this small eddy. The challenge is in making sure the flowing waterfall itself doesn’t blow out and become just pure white without any detail or texture. Careful use of the histogram is the best way to do this, and I made sure that there were no “blinkies”  or blown highlights in the camera preview. I only had one chance at this since the leaf soon went on its way downstream, so metering correctly was also important and I spot metered the leaves in the foreground., then under exposed by 1/3 of a stop (to protect the highlights).

Of course, very soft light is required to keep the shadows from becoming too dark, and since this was very early in the morning in a forest setting, I had no problems with dynamic range. To my eye the scene was was very dark, but as I illustrate in workshops, the camera can capture much more light than we can simply through the use of very long exposures, and I didn’t have to use any kind of filter. Colors are also more saturated in soft overcast light, another factor to keep in mind when photographing the colors of autumn. White balance was set to daylight in camera, then I adjusted to taste to maintain a balance between the blue of the water reflecting the overcast light, and the warm colors of the leaves – not easy but having a color calibrated monitor is essential.

I processed in Lightroom 3, with some minimal dodging of the water in the flowing water along the left side of the image, and a fair amount of noise reduction since I used ISO 400. Normally this would have needed a trip to Photoshop to use a dedicated noise reduction plugin, but LR3’s noise reduction  is really great now and I can remain completely in the RAW environment.

Finally, I always tell students that any image should have a strong main character, and for me it is simply the swirling leaf and surrounding leaves in the immediate foreground. The contrast between what is moving and what isn’t caught my attention, and creates energy and a sense of being there. Though a rather complicated scene, I attempted to simplify it with a single element that becomes the focal point. Always learning from the moment…

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