Tag Archives: Waterfall

Fossography

I never understood why waterfalls grab the hearts and minds of so many photographers. Go to any location that advertises a waterfall and it is guaranteed that there will be a large parking space, lots of cars, and buses with their engines idling. Masses of people, often out of shape, hike along a trail. The first action when the lookout point is reached is to pull out a camera and photograph the falls. In post-processing the images are cropped just above the pool, around which the fellow visitors had their picnic.

Gullfoss, Iceland. Nikon D810, Nikkor 28 f/1.4, at f/11, 4 s, ISO 50. Composite image with focus stack on foreground. 6-stop ND filter.

More recently, a popular thing seems to be “dying for a selfie”; people standing extremely close with their back on the brink of a fall, trying to get the best perspective of themselves leaning over the gorge.

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Neutral Density Filters

Neutral density (ND) filters reduce the amount of light that enters the lens. ND filters are often used to achieve motion-blur effects with slow shutter speeds, blurring water or cloud motion, reducing depth of field in very bright light (when 1/4000 or 1/8000 of a second is not short enough for the large aperture), or to reduce the visibility of moving persons.

Iquacu falls. Fuji Velvia 50, f/32, 2 seconds. No ND filter needed.

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Moonbow over Iguacu

I never understood why waterfalls grab the hearts and minds of photographers. Go to any location that advertises a waterfall and it is guaranteed that there will be a large parking space, lots of cars, and buses with their engines idling*.

Iquacu falls, Brazil

Many people, often out of shape, hike along a trail. The first action when the lookout point is reached is to pull out a camera and photograph the falls. In post-processing the images are cropped just above the pool, around which the fellow visitors had their picnic.

Waterfalls just do not photograph well. In nice, sunny weather the contrast exceeds the dynamic range of color film and of most digital sensors. Bright light also produces flair, which is a particular problem for the wet rocks and vegetation that typically surround the falls, and desaturates the color that may be present in the water. From a compositional point of view, the images are often unbalanced and there is no sense of scale, except if  one refrains from cropping off the picnickers. This experience, or prejudice, made me shy away from Iguacu when I first visited Brazil in 1997. Four years ago, however, I came back to Brazil and took a detour to the waterfalls.

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