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Archive 2012 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?
  
 
Camperjim
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?


I spent a number of days in the Columbia gorge trying to learn how to photograph waterfalls. I had only a very few images I liked.

Now months later I hiked across a few miles of dry rocky desert to reach the 120 foot Calf Creek Falls. The rocks around these falls are extremely colorful...no surprise the falls are in a southern Utah red rock area and the rocks are even more colorful when wet. I should have been able to capture something spectacular instead I got a handful of so so images. What should I have done to capture something better?





Calf Creek Falls - The Approach







Calf Creek Falls







Calf Creek Falls Closeup




Apr 05, 2012 at 03:39 AM
Jonathan Huynh
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?


Nice captures . Photo # 2 my favorite.


Apr 05, 2012 at 03:48 AM
Paulthelefty
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?


I personally think longer shutter to smooth the water more. I am looking at my iPad, but the exposure seems a little dark to me as well

You don't mention your set up. Are you using ND or CPL filters? I would think a shutter speed of a couple seconds should really smooth out the water on this shot, but you will certainly need an ND to get to that.

My only other suggestions would be to try different crops and viewpoints. Crop to just the waterfall, try a POV right at the water surface, try a 3 or 4 shot pano to include more of the cliff face. Move the falls out of the center of the frame. This is a beautiful area, and your first shot is lovely. The falls shot seems to lack that same punch and grandeur.

I would suggest composing for the landscape first, then exposing for the waterfall, if that makes sense.

There is a small falls of similar size very near to my house, and I struggle getting a shot I truly love, partly because my angles are very restricted because of the canyon/coulee the falls drop into. It looks like you have a bit more room and much better BG scenery that offers many possibilities. Play with them, and find that magic spot where it all works!

Good luck!
Paul



Apr 05, 2012 at 04:05 AM
Julian Nell
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?


I like No.2 best.

On the first one I would try a B&W conversion.

Julian



Apr 05, 2012 at 04:22 AM
beanpkk
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?


These are great! I don't think I'd change anything. I spent all summer trying to get moving water pictures in the mtns of New Hampshire, and yours look fine to me.

Getting the "right" amount of blurriness to the water is a matter of taste and technical limitation. If you really want to blur it in bright light an ND filter, and a strong one, becomes necessary. The only sort of general rule I have heard is small falls want more blurring than big falls, and big falls can benefit from fast shutter speeds to dropletize the water and show the power of the falls. I don't know if that's true or not -- just something I've read. Again, the blurring of the water is a matter of taste, and I think it can be overdone. When the water starts to look like fog instead of water I think it's too much. These don't do that.

The other tricks, and they're important I think, are to go on a cloudy day so you're not having to fight huge amounts of contrast, and use a polarizer to minimize reflections and bring out the color in the rocks.

If you've tried various shutter speeds and don't like any of the results, then perhaps change the composition. In #1 which I really like, you have what looks like a cloudy sky showing, and that can just be white a blown out, but in this case it has a lot of texture which I think is fine.

Just one more thing: everyone else's pictures always look better than my own. I think that's partly because I know all about mine: my mood, how I got there, who else was there, etc etc, while others' are just images w/out all the emotional baggage. I don't know if that happens to anyone else or not.

Just my $.02.

Keith



Apr 05, 2012 at 04:43 AM
SSISteve
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?


I love shooting waterfalls and don't see a major issue with what you have here. The only thing to me is they look too contrasty or over sharpened.

Steve



Apr 05, 2012 at 05:22 AM
ucphotog
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?


I am supposing the images you posted here are the ones you liked.

What if you posted a couple you don't like. Perhaps not the truly awful ones, but ones that seemed like they should be good, but just didn't do it. That might give folks a chance to point out what you might have done to improve those. Just a thought. I tried that once with a shot or two that seemed like they should be good, but ... weren't. I got some good feedback.



Apr 05, 2012 at 05:52 AM
Robert Body
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?


You don't say what you don't like
1) light?.... 2) framing?... 3) focal length?...

What makes a photo really work depends on what you're after.
#2 would be better in different light

This was more of a closeup of another waterfall


than this


both are at 17mm, 1.3 crop sensor, about 93% of original image, and it was the best I could do for my liking.
There are a few choices you can make like shooting without direct sunlight, excluding/limiting sky or darkening it by itself, using a long exposure of 2-10 seconds depending of what looks better in the picture, including the whole of a waterfall or just a part.
The really good shots come from "working an area" with a single lens or 2 and having a picture in your mind of what you want to get, and then you find it with position of tripod, framing, focal length. Sometimes it's going back a few times and sometimes it's just being there for as long as you feel you need to find the shot you have in your mind.

If you find someone else's picture from the area you like, or just waterfalls in general, find the couple of things that the picture has that yours doesn't, and that's a step in the right direction. The waterfall pictures I have seen that I like are usually shot with a wide-angle like 24mm on full-frame or thereabouts, and including the surrounding area while cutting out or limiting the sky (unless the sky is spectacular), done in low light where the greens come alive in the shade and the water has blur from 2+ second exposure -- that would be what I aim for if possible, but some waterfalls are more challenging to photograph than others, so maybe you have to try some ideas, leave and examine the photos at home and come back again and try something else, or improve on the last idea.



Apr 05, 2012 at 06:09 AM
JimFox
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?


Hey Jim,

Interesting shots here. How interesting to hike a couple of miles to find this waterfall.

First off, your closeup in #3 looks good.

#2 looks pretty good, I know you have already gotten tons of suggestions, but I will add my 2 cents also.

1st the water. It appears blown in a few spots. I will have to disagree with the idea that a longer shutter speed is needed here. The issue with longer shutter speeds in the couple of seconds range, is that the water then all blurs and you lose all detail in it, and it also then tends to feel blown out, since there is no detail left. So for me, shots like this... 1 sec max. I will also bracket with the shutter speed. Sometimes what you can do is blend a longer shutterspeed shot like this, with one say at 1/5th of sec which will show more detail in the water, and then in the areas where the water has turned pure white, lightly paint in with a layer mask the water from the 1/5th sec shot to give more detail and life to the shot.

2. The composition, while nice, is maybe too wide... the detail of the sky at the top of the shot is very cool how you retained the detail in it in that gap area of the rock. But ultimately I think with this thinner type of falls, that you want to get in closer. So losing much of that area on the top and zooming in slightly tighter will allow for more detail to be seen of the water.

I do think you did a pretty good job with that one, but since you asked, those would be my suggestions.

Jim



Apr 05, 2012 at 08:18 AM
stanparker
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?


Jim, I've been there and it is a special place for most of us who did the hike. Upper Calf Creek Falls can also be nice, just not as big and the hike much steeper. Anyway, I think your shots are pretty good, just have too much contrast for my taste. The 3rd is excellent, IMO.

The best shots of it I've seen were taken from the right side, where there is a small "dam" of rocks and the stream exits the pool. Some include the "dam" while others simply show the pool in the foreground. A CPL is nice to cut the reflection off the water and the canyon wall, and ND filters are needed depending on sunlight.



Apr 05, 2012 at 10:53 AM
 

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Camperjim
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?


Thanks for all of the comments. These are really helpful. I should have provided shooting information especially since I am asking for help.

The first image of the falls is a Photomatix hdr with +/- 2ev bracketing. I did this to preserve the sky. The burnt out appearance of the water was just a result of my clumsy processing of the hdr. This was actually the only bracketing I did that day. For most of the images I had retained only a minimal amount of sky and my intention was to process by selecting the sky and then colorizing with a faint blue to avoid the burnt out appearance.

The closeup image of the falls was shot at f/13, 1/15s.

I did try several different positions and a couple of closeup compositions. I did also collect a number of images at different f stops and shutter speeds.

From reading all the comments and thinking about the results I obtained, I have come to at least a couple of conclusions. I need to get a ND filter. I usually do not like the very silky waterfall images but it this case I was pretty limited in slowing the shutter. Even more important, I always carry a CP filter. I rarely use it because I have had too many negative experiences with uneven darkening of the sky. If I had had enough sense to use the CP filter I believe my results would have been much better. It would have given me more choices for shutter speed but even more important there was a lot of light reflected off the wet rocks and the CP filter would have cut that shine and improved the details and color.

Thanks again for all the suggestions.




Apr 05, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Mike Ganz
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?


IMO, a polarizer is pretty much mandatory when shooting waterfalls. Not only will it boost contrast and saturation a bit, but its also great for controlling reflections and glare. As a bonus, it will also perform double-duty as a 1-1/2 to 2-stop neutral density filter.


Apr 05, 2012 at 01:51 PM
river rover
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p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?


One more suggestion. Go at a different time of day. The shadows are very harsh and are doing a lot to hide the actual color patterning in the rocks. You'll have less trouble managing exposure if you've got less dynamic range to start with. Software and Post can make light like you got here look pretty good, but if you spent as much time in post with a photo with good light it would have the potential to be very good indeed.


Apr 05, 2012 at 01:55 PM
ckcarr
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p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?


Whenever I go somewhere new that I've never seen in person I try and do research on professional shots, and other images (posted in this site) for example. Rather than take a book with I might actually take a picture of the picture so I have it on the camera card.

If you look at a lot of images from popular locations, like this Calf Creek you will see most of the variations possible. Especially if you are geographically limited. Then, you can work on the technical side of getting it right, and even better - after you have shot the iconic images then work on your own interpretation.

There is a filter out there I want to buy for this type location, the vari-neutral density, which gives a range from 2 to 8 stops. Singh-Ray and Tiffen have them.

Your second shot would be my favorite but I'd prefer it to be landscape oriented, no sky, just including the pool, waterfall and sandstone.

The first seems a little oversharpened.



Apr 05, 2012 at 01:58 PM
ben egbert
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p.1 #15 · p.1 #15 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?


I like all three of these shots. Photography at the end of a hike is tough unless you start before dawn and arrive at golden hour or plan to hike back in the dark. But at least you don't have a completely empty sky and the exposures look pretty good (I try not to judge such things on web presentations).

I will second the advice to have a fast enough shutter speed to get detail in the water, blurred water has become a cliche in my opinion and should be reserved for soft light in very shaded settings.



Apr 05, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Camperjim
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p.1 #16 · p.1 #16 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?


Ben, thanks. I always appreciate your comments. You are right, I do prefer the more detailed water appearance and should not try to copy the more silky style others prefer.

ck, thanks. I am travelling and process on a laptop which does not help my ability to fine tune the processing for the internet. I usually process as if I were printing and then downsize and hit it with an additional heavy dose of sharpening.

Mike and river, thanks also for the excellent input.



Apr 05, 2012 at 04:56 PM
Dustin Gent
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p.1 #17 · p.1 #17 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?


I have shot "a few" waterfalls in my journeys, so I will give you my advice.

The absolute #1 factor is time of day. NO filter can duplicate what a dark, dreary overcast day can. Now you don't necessarily need an overcast or dreary (rainy) day, but if you have to shoot on a clear day, the absolute earliest you can shoot, the better.

You also need the details of the waterfall you are wanting to shoot, especially if you have never been there. So the direction the falls faces, if it is wide open (no tree cover to help), sunrise time, etc. I have not used a polarizer (or any filter for that matter) to shoot a waterfall in years. That is not to say I wish I had one, but again I shoot waterfalls only during certain times of the year and times of day. Only thing I would need a polarizer for is the glare, but I can combat this pretty well in my compositions.



Apr 05, 2012 at 05:34 PM
stanparker
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p.1 #18 · p.1 #18 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?


I should have said this in my first post, but didn't. I have seen lots and lots of shots of this particular waterfall, Jim, and yours equal or exceed most of them. Nobody gets there at sunrise and few stay until sunset. Most shots are taken straight on, and few visitors go into the stream in March to get the best POV.


Apr 06, 2012 at 12:01 AM
Camperjim
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p.1 #19 · p.1 #19 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?


Stan, there was a long skinny log across the water. I went across very carefully using my tripod as a support. I will need to look back at the images but it seemed that the straight on shot was more appealing. I guess I was trying to capture the color of the rocks in addition to the Falls. No reason to post an additional image now. This thread will sink down into oblivion soon. I was already lucky enough to get lots of helpful comments.


Apr 06, 2012 at 12:08 AM
Rick Schump
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p.1 #20 · p.1 #20 · Calf Creek Falls - How to shoot a waterfall?


Jim, I agree a lot with what has already been said. First high flow water is more dynamic when you can show it's power. SS of up to 1/125sec. is suppose to be close to normal vision ( If you could stop water ). Low flow rivers can handle much slower SS and the loss of detail is not as great, as the intimacy of the overall scene increasers.
Looking at your shot I would have expected a SS between 1/30 and 1/10 sec. to be right for my tastes. Bracket to get a range of water speeds/detail. Bracket to get your highlights and shadows exp. properly.
Use of a polarizer may or may not help, depending what you want to achieve ( +/- reflection, sat. enhancement, Help/ hinder SS, to name a few things. )
Shoot portions of the falls ( like you did ) to Isolate detail /comps. , shoot wide if you can ( you can always crop ). You have some nice shots there, though they may or may not make your cut list. Rick



Apr 06, 2012 at 05:06 AM





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