Tips for Photographing Waterfalls

 

I think I may have briefly covered this in a previous post but after recently shooting some waterfalls I figured it would probably be helpful to write about this topic in more detail.

Waterfalls and their surrounding forests are always a magnet for photographers of any skill level due to their serene nature, flowing water, beautiful green hues and glistening rocks. While these amazing locations look beautiful at any time of the day, photographing them can be a little tricky. Fortunately these issues can be overcome with a few easy steps.

As I mentioned above, I recently visited some falls in the Marysville region of Victoria. Being unfamiliar with the area and not knowing exactly what to expect, I arrived at the falls relatively early in the morning to allow time to explore. After a 1km hike through some semi-dense forest I came to the base of the falls. It was a beautiful sight. There was just one problem….The sun was shining down over the falls creating deep shadows and very bight highlights. Whilst these conditions don’t rule out shooting all together, they certainly can make capturing everything in one shot extremely difficult.

Just like any photographer, I love capturing that silky smooth long exposure effect on water. Our problem here though is that the dynamic range in this scene is far to great to capture in one shot without some minor tradeoffs. Yes we can bracket our images at varying exposures and blend them using Photoshop, but the end result can sometimes look a little unnatural. On this occasion I decided to try out a few compositions regardless of the conditions. I had taken the time to walk here, I might as well see what I can capture. 

To try and combat the harsh sunlight around the top of my frame I added a graduated neutral density filter to darken the upper third of the image. Whilst that helped a little it doesn’t give the long exposure effect on the water. To achieve that, I also added a 6 stop neutral density filter to darken the overall scene and allow me to lengthen my shutter speed. Finally, to cut through the glare on the water and rocks I used a circular polariser.

To best capture a scene like this in one shot, I always expose for the highlights. You can always boost the dark shadows in your images to even out your exposure, but you will never be able to recover blown out highlights. How much detail you can bring back in your shadow areas will be determined by your camera and it sensor. For this shot I was using my old Nikon D800 which retains pretty good shadow details so I knew I would be able to bring back the dark areas with only small amounts of noise.

 This is the RAW file straight out of camera

This is the RAW file straight out of camera

  ISO 100 | f/11 | 35mm | 1 sec - Edited and colour corrected in Lightroom

ISO 100 | f/11 | 35mm | 1 sec - Edited and colour corrected in Lightroom

Using these techniques I was able to capture the above image. I have included both the RAW file and the Lightroom edited version so that you can see the differences. Whist it is a true representation of the scene as it was, it is definitely not as pleasing to the eyes as what would be possible without the harsh sunlight. The result is a washed out and overly contrasty image. The easiest solution to this problem is to remove the harsh sunlight. To do this you can either pick an overcast day to come back and shoot, or in my case I noticed that the falls were situated in a valley surrounded by tall trees. All I would have to do is wait until later in the afternoon when the sun had set low enough that the hills and trees were blocking the light, bringing the entire location into shadow. 

Now that our light is completely flat, there are no bright highlights or deep shadows. This removes the need for the graduated ND filter and (depending on how dark it is) the 6 stop ND filter. One tool that I always retain though for shooting waterfalls is the circular polariser.  Despite the lack of sunlight, there is still reflection/glare on the water and rocks and cutting through that will not only improve your image but it will boost your colour and contrast. For this shot I still expose for the highlights however it is much easier to achieve a well balanced exposure due to the flat light.

The below image is from the afternoon shoot. The results are 100% better in my opinion. You can fully appreciate the colours and your eyes are not distracted by the overly bright highlights. I realise that in some situations it is not always possible to wait for a rainy day or come back at sunset. There have been many occasions where I just had to make do with the conditions available as that was the only time I had in that location. If however you have the luxury of time, I would definitely recommend visiting a location initially to scope out the area and compositions, then return when the light is right. It makes our job as photographers so much easier and it can take our images to the next level.

Summarised Tips

  • Shooting in flat, even light will always yield the best results
  • Always use a polariser
  • Graduated and regular ND filters can help control uneven lighting situations
  • Expose for the highlights
  • Always shoot in RAW to give you more editing power in Lightroom when it comes to boosting shadows and reducing highlights
  • Check out your shooting location ahead of time to work out where the light falls and the best time of day to shoot. 
 ISO 100 | f/16 | 24mm | 0.4 sec

ISO 100 | f/16 | 24mm | 0.4 sec

 

2017 Projects In Review

 

I realise that 2017 isn't quite over yet but I'm normally not very organised when it comes to writing blog posts so I figured I'd get on top of this while I think of it :)

Photography for me is a dream job and it is a profession that I hope to have the privilege of continuing in for a long time. Since taking my photography business full-time this year, I have had some fantastic clients and worked on a variety of projects ranging from aerial photography and video, 360 VR tours, event coverage, workshops, landscape prints, client Google Street View updates, portraits, formals, real estate photography and a few others.

One project in particular though stood out as the most enjoyable, the most challenging and the most rewarding. This job was shooting new destination and tourism images for the Southern Great Barrier Reef (SGBR) region. SGBR is the combined regions of Capricorn (Rockhampton/Yeppoon), Gladstone and Bundaberg.

Despite some monsoonal weather and a few other hinderances, I feel that I came away with some great images that will hopefully get put to good use in marketing these three amazing regions.

While most of you probably follow this page for my landscape photography... commercial photography actually makes up approximately 90% of my business. To give you a little taste of my work in this space, I have included a few of my favourite images from the recent SGBR tourism project.

Comments and shares are very much appreciated.

 

The Importance of Photographic Prints

 

The majority of us view images these days on our computers and phones, but it is becoming increasingly rare to actually view a physical copy of that image in person. 

While I love admiring landscape and travel photographs posted to Facebook and Instagram, the experience can't compare to viewing an image in print. Especially when it's a large print.

GalleryProof.jpg

There is something about seeing a physical representation of an image, the texture of the paper and the depth of colour that adds a completely new dimension. Even if you have seen the photograph before online, I find that its almost like seeing the image again for the first time.

Late last year I visited world renowned Australian photographer, Ken Duncan's gallery in Erina Heights, New South Wales. This was a revelation to me. I, like most people don't often have my work printed. Yes I have a couple of images hanging on my walls at home that I love, but the majority of my work can only be seen online.

Walking into Ken's gallery opened my eyes and gave life to a new inspiration and desire for photography that I had never felt before. It brought about the realisation that printing completes the cycle - From the eye of the photographer and the process to capture the image, to the digital post processing and finally the printing to create a piece of art. 

 60x40 Canvas

60x40 Canvas

In our digital society, photographs are shared/consumed online and within 24 hours they're gone. Printing your photography gives your images a life of their own. They no longer have an expiration date. For all the work that goes into making an image, it's a shame that after the initial post to social media, they then sit on our hard drives, never to be seen by anyone else again.

If you are a photographer, whether as a hobbyist, enthusiast or professional - you need to experience your own work in print.

While I know that 85-90% of my work will continue to be in a digital format, I don't think it will ever compare to the addictive rush of seeing a completed large scale print. 

To finish off, check out this great video from one of my YouTube favs Peter McKinnon on why you need to be printing your photos.

If you are tired of looking at that empty wall in your home or the office, please consider browsing my galleries for the perfect image to complement your space. My work comes in a variety of sizes and mediums ranging from canvas, metal and standard fine art prints.  

 

Photography Channels to Follow on YouTube

 

The internet is a gold mine for photography related information as we all know. But the one place that I look to more than any other for photography related inspiration, motivation and information is YouTube. For those of you that may not be aware, YouTube is the second largest search engine on the internet behind Google, processing more than 3 billion searches a month.

Approximately 100 hours of video are uploaded to the platform every minute, and while that provides us with a variety of options when it comes to finding content, it also means that there can be a lot of noise to wade through to find what you are looking for. 

To save time for those of you that are only new to photography, I thought I would put together a top 5 list of my favourite YouTube channels to follow.

Thomas Heaton

Thomas is a landscape photographer from the UK that posts a weekly video blog (VLOG) of his photography adventures. His videos are very informative and entertaining, covering a variety of topics and landscape related situations. I came across his channel about 18 months ago and it is by far my favourite on YouTube. 

The Camera Store TV

Whenever I am looking for info and reviews on the latest gear, I always jump over to The Camera Store TV. They are as their name implies, a camera store...however, via their YouTube channel they offer informative and unbiased reviews along with hands on field tests and previews. 

Michael Shainblum

If you are looking for inspiration, you can't go past Michael's 4K time-lapse and aerial films. The imagery and details that he captures are mind-blowing and they are always combined with an awesome audio track. His films are very immersive and it is easy to become completely oblivious to the outside world while watching them. His channel also has some great tutorials on Photoshop and Astrophotography.

Ben Horne

Ben is a large format wilderness photographer that predominantly shoots all of his images on 8x10 film. His images are simply stunning and after you watch some of his VLOGs and see the process involved in capturing his images, you will come away with a true appreciation for the quality of his work. On his website Ben mentions that he absolutely loves working with large format film because of the inherent limitation, and the strong sense of discipline that is required. 

Fstoppers

Fstoppers is a community of photographers, videographers, and other creative professionals focused on sharing reviews, photo tricks and tips, tutorials, and news. If there is a topic that they haven't covered on their channel, then it probably isn't worth knowing about. I started watching their videos right back when I first got into photography and they consistently produce really informative content, albeit sometimes with hilarious results. By far my favourite series they have posted is the 'Photographing the World' behind the scenes episodes with Elia Locardi. Check it out below.

 

Chasing Waterfalls in the Otways

 
 Top Lookout: Triplet Falls - Nikon D800 @ ISO 100 | f/16 | 17mm | 1/4 sec

Top Lookout: Triplet Falls - Nikon D800 @ ISO 100 | f/16 | 17mm | 1/4 sec

Since the first time I picked up a camera I have wanted to photograph the waterfalls in Victoria's Great Otway National Park. Images of these majestic falls have filled my social media feeds for years and once we started planning this 6 month road trip, I knew that this was a place that I had to add to our itinerary. In this blog I will describe each of the falls and the walks down to them. At the end I have listed some suggested gear and settings for your photographs.

Triplet Falls

The three main waterfalls are located north-east from the Lavers Hill junction on the Great Ocean Road. From the junction along the Colac-Lavers Hill Road, it is only a 15 minute drive to the first of three which is Triplet Falls. The walk into Triplet Falls meanders amongst lush rainforest and features many a tiny subject for macro photographers to focus on. The track is quite an easy grade with steps in a number of locations. There are 3 viewing platforms once you reach the falls. Each will take you a little higher providing different vantage points through the rainforest. When you begin the walk you have the option to go left or right. The path to the right is a more direct route to the falls however my preference was to go left which takes you to the lowest point first and then moves up the falls to the top. In total, it will probably take approximately 35-45 mins return including time at each of the lookout platforms. Unfortunately there is a lot of thick forest between you and the falls, and on some of the platforms it can really obscure your shot. The best view of the falls in my opinion is from the highest platform.

 Upstream from Triplet Falls - Nikon D800 @ ISO 100 | f/11 | 25mm | 2 sec

Upstream from Triplet Falls - Nikon D800 @ ISO 100 | f/11 | 25mm | 2 sec

Hopetoun Falls

The next location is Hopetoun Falls. Hopetoun Falls is definitely my favourite of the three and provides the most variety when it comes to compositions. The falls are located approximately 10 kms further east once you return to the main road from Triplet Falls. In this section the walk is not a long one (10-15mins to the bottom) but there are a significant number of steep steps which can be quite slippery after rain. A moderate level of fitness is required. Once you reach the end of the trail, you will find yourself at a large platform which provides an excellent view of the falls and access to setup for probably one of the more well known compositions. Depending on how agile you are, there is opportunity to climb down to ground level and follow one of the various well trodden tracks to get up closer to the base of the falls. You may even be able to shoot from a rock in the creek if the water level isn't too high. Because of the steps, the return walk may take up to 20-25 mins.

 Main Lookout: Hopetoun Falls - Nikon D800 @ ISO 100 | f/11 | 16mm | 1/4 sec

Main Lookout: Hopetoun Falls - Nikon D800 @ ISO 100 | f/11 | 16mm | 1/4 sec

Beauchamp Falls

I've saved to longest walk til last! Well....it's not all that much further than the others but if your walking back up to the car park in pouring rain like I was...it can feel like an eternity 😀. Beauchamp Falls is relatively close in proximity to Hopetoun and while there aren't as many steps to the bottom, the gradual incline all the way down can be slippery and wearing on your knees if you aren't taking it slow. Once you reach the bottom there is a small number of steps that will lead you up to a platform that overlooks the falls from the side. Your line of sight to the falls is unobstructed and will provide an easy vertical composition. It can be tricky though to setup a tripod on the viewing platform because of the mesh floor. Your tripod legs will most likely fall through the holes so take care when setting up for your shot. The floor can also be quite bouncy so it is also best to try and capture your shot with no one else on the platform. Either that or ask them to stand very still (this can also be an issue on the platform at Hopetoun Falls).

 Just off the main track: Beauchamp Falls - Nikon D800 @ ISO 100 | f/16 | 16mm | 1/8 sec

Just off the main track: Beauchamp Falls - Nikon D800 @ ISO 100 | f/16 | 16mm | 1/8 sec

Back down at the base of the steps there is a precarious track that will take you down to the waters edge. If the water level is low enough you can setup on one of the larger rocks in the water for a front and centre composition. Otherwise you can follow the water downstream for some alternative compositions. Keep in mind though that the further you go, the more obstructed your view of the falls will become. After heavy rain this side track can become quite muddy and slippery and I can attest to this after falling in the creek and almost losing a shoe in the mud myself 😆

 Beauchamp Falls - Nikon D800 @ ISO 100 | f/8 | 30mm | 1/4 sec

Beauchamp Falls - Nikon D800 @ ISO 100 | f/8 | 30mm | 1/4 sec

Now let's talk gear! 

There are a number of photography tools that you can utilise to achieve some great results in these locations, however your primary 'must have' pieces of equipment (aside from your camera) will be a polarising filter and a tripod. The use of a tripod will keep your camera steady and help you to achieve longer exposures and sharper images. A polariser is instrumental in cutting through glare/reflections on water and can significantly increase colour and contrast in your image. Overcast conditions are also ideal for shooting waterfalls as it reduces the dynamic range in the light and makes capturing the scene a whole lot easier. Obviously you can't always rely on having the perfect overcast conditions, so to combat the large dynamic range created on sunny days you will need some additional tools. These can include a neutral density filter (ND filter) to allow for longer exposures to smooth out water in bright light, and a graduated neutral density filter (GND filter) to darken brighter areas at the top of your frame. I use Nisi Filters for the majority of my images. Their V5 filter system has a built in circular polariser and is great value for money compared to other brands. For waterfall images I would suggest using either a 3 stop or 6 stop ND filter depending on the amount of light and how smooth you want the water to be. For additional information on how to utilise a polarising filter or graduated and non graduated neutral density filters, head over to the Digital Photography School blog as they have some great tutorials.

 Below Main Lookout: Hopetoun Falls - Nikon D800 @ ISO 100 | f/16 | 16mm | 3 sec

Below Main Lookout: Hopetoun Falls - Nikon D800 @ ISO 100 | f/16 | 16mm | 3 sec

In the images that I captured of these falls I only used a circular polariser (CPL). The conditions on this day were perfect as it was completely overcast with no additional sunlight. It was also raining which would have made using any kind of larger ND filters an onerous task as I would have been constantly having to clean them. As it was, the spray from the falls and the continual rain required me to wipe my CPL in between shots but the surface area is a lot smaller and easier to keep clean than the larger square filters.

My settings for these images were pretty similar for each shot. I predominantly used ISO 100 to ensure the least amount of noise, and apertures ranging from f/8 to f/16. For any compositions where I used a wide focal length with foreground interest I would use f/16 to keep as much in focus as possible from front to back of the image. Shots where I had zoomed in, I used f/8 or f/11 as longer focal lengths cause compression and layering which bring components in the image closer together, requiring less depth of field. The focal lengths and lens that you choose to use are completely up to you. For this shoot I chose to predominately shoot wide with a 16-35mm lens. My shutter speeds would vary between 1/8th second to 3 seconds depending on how smooth I wanted the water. It was also quite windy on the day so I would sometimes use shorter shutter speeds to limit the amount of blur in the trees as they were moving around quite a lot.

I realise that some of you may have questions in regards to the topics I have covered in this blog post and if you are keen to find out more, I am happy to talk anytime. Feel free to comment below, contact me via email or direct message me via one of my social profiles (Facebook, Instagram etc). 

Thanks for stopping by and I hope some of what I have written here will be useful to you.

 View from Main Platform: Beauchamp Falls - Nikon D800 @ ISO 100 | f/11 | 25mm | 1/3 sec

View from Main Platform: Beauchamp Falls - Nikon D800 @ ISO 100 | f/11 | 25mm | 1/3 sec