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Black Creek Waterfall
Canon 1Ds Mk III, 1/2 sec@f/11, ISO 100, 22mm, polarizer

Shooting waterfalls is always a challenge for me simply because I wonder how I can possibly do something different than what’s been done before. Take shutter speeds for example. The classic effect of using a slow shutter to blur the water and create a sense of movement and action is nothing new. But the reality is that it works. I don’t have any problems using a technique that works, even if its been done a million times before. We can say that about a lot of things in photography, yet that doesn’t mean we stop doing them.

The question is are we using them effectively. That often makes the difference between an image that’s cliche and one that resonates with the viewer. The tools and techniques are the same, but the story they can tell is what matters most of all.

Breaking Down the Steps

When I setup his shot, I studied the scene for quite some time. I decided to use a wide angle lens for maximum depth and also to capture the small details in the immediate foreground on the right. The tripod was in the water, and I had barely had enough room to look through the  viewfinder – my feet were in the  water as well.

I used f/11 to maintain maximum sharpness in the file (due to diffraction at smaller apertures), especially since much of the detail is in the trees on the opposite side of the creek. I used the lowest ISO so that I could use a longer shutter speed, and on top of that a circular polarizer to cut the amount of light entering the lens even more. The polarizer also removed some glare from the water and foliage. That combination gave me a shutter of 0.4 sec, perfect for the fast moving water. I like to preserve some detail in waterfalls so it doesn’t just become “white foam”, and you can see some streaks in the falls.

We can study camera settings all day long, but the composition combined with great light is where we grab and pull the viewer into the photograph. If you don’t achieve that, everything else is meaningless. Let me repeat that – if you don’t pull the viewer into your image, then the rest really doesn’t matter one bit. I honestly think some photographers either ignore that or don’t truly appreciate how important strong composition and light matters more than their expensive lenses, camera bodies, or post-processing skills. Maybe it’s a lack of patience or commitment to a single image even when there are other opportunities nearby.

Watch the Video

Just to make this clearer, I recorded a short video which I hope explains these ideas a bit better…I know from feedback many of you asked for more behind the scenes info on making images…I also share some Lightroom 5 settings as well.

As always, please leave your feedback and questions below. I’d also love to hear what you found most useful about the video, and what I might improve.

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This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Thanks, Robert! I really appreciated the comments about composition and leading the eye-some things I am trying to work on! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience so freely!

  2. Good explanation and comments on composing an image! Yes, these posts on “making an image” are very helpful. Thank-you!

  3. Spot on Robert. The diffraction issue is that one bit that’s important as well. I found that out the hard way even though I wanted more depth of field. The funnier thing is if using a macro lens (my experience) diffraction is even more noticeable so I’m forced to open up my f-stop just to sacrifice depth of field.

    1. Thanks Al – yes that can be the case with some macro lenses, and why the very best ones carry a heft price tag. I’ve seen great results with focus stacking, but the workflow can be daunting, not to mention the difficulties of shooting in the field depending on your subject – if it’s moving (that includes light) it can be difficult if not impossible. But may be worth looking into in your case. Helicon Software


  4. Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge Robert. I have had LR 4 for a couple of years but have only recently started to use it after having viewed some of your videos. I find them invaluable as a learning tool.

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