The Fantasy Waterfall
This first image, then, is an early attempt in my current quest to take decent long-exposure photographs. Waterfalls are, so I'm told, a good place to start as they flow relatively fast and don't need ultra-long exposures to get that silky-look to the water.
Near to where I currently live, in South-central France, there are plenty of river-valleys and -gorges being fed with smaller streams running from the higher-slopes, often with numerous small waterfalls along their course. The river Lignon passes through the valley I live in and this combination of moving water and proximity make this an excellent place to practise.
I easily found a good sized stream with a few waterfalls along its' length and soon found the one that best fit the final image already formed in my head. I was looking for a fantasy type effect; the kind of image that wouldn't look out of place in a Tolkien story. I found a good-sized fall with a well-formed overhanging canopy (covering about 70% of the sky) that cut down on specular highlights on the water, helping to avoid blown-out hotspots, and provided the generally dark feel I was going for.
I first took some test shots, in order to find the best composition;
So, I'm in the right area (though, I did move a little closer to the falls for the final set-up) and, with a shutter speed of 0.3 second (hand-held), the water is already looking good. But, I want much less texture in the water below the fall and still need to get the dark, fantasy-esque feel into the final image.
For this, I knew I would have to slow down the shutter speed even more and so needed the services of a neutral density (ND) filter. The sole purpose of these dark lenses is to reduce the amount of day-light reaching the sensor to such a degree that you can increase the time of the exposure enough to emphasise movement (be it clouds in the sky or water flowing at your feet).
Being a novice to the long-exposure game, I only (currently) have a 10 stop ND filter and so can't play around too much with exposures. Needless to say, exceptionally slow shutter speeds require a tripod so, once you've found your spot, you can set-up for the long-haul.
Once happy with the composition and (reasonably) content with the camera-tripod set-up, I checked the correct ND exposure (using a great little smart phone app; LE Calculator) and screwed on the ND filter.
As it turned out, the exposure of around 340 seconds that the calculator gave me resulted in a too-bright image so, I halved the time and ended up with something close to what I was after.
Just a few tweaks in Lightroom to bring out the shadows and pop the greens of the foliage surrounding the waterfall, crop to a 16x10 aspect ratio and to boost the texture of the rocks, I had something approximating the picture in my head (see top image).
If I try this again at this spot, I will probably exclude the rocks in the foreground and lighten the water in the pool. I'm also thinking of trying this at night and using a torch to spot-light the ferns at the top-left of the waterfall.
So, there we go, my first attempt at a long-exposure waterfall and my first attempt at writing a narrative of how I achieved it. I'd be very interested to hear any opinions on either (or both) and I hope to improve (both) as I go.
If you want to find out more about long-exposure photography I found this article and excellent place to start.