I’m learning something new about taking pictures of moving water pretty much every time I go out. The coolest waterfall imagery, to my mind, has a certain flow that you don’t get by setting your camera on “automatic” and hoping for the best. You have to use a tripod, long time exposures — sometimes as much as a second long — and automatic shutter release to ensure the act of clicking the shutter doesn’t shake the camera and blur the image.
Until yesterday I had done all my shooting under deep forest canopy with abundant shade. This is ideal because the moving water will reflect whatever light is available and still give you interesting images with very low shutter speeds.
But what if your moving waterfall isn’t in the shade? I ran into that yesterday at Murietta Falls. I wasn’t in direct sunlight because it was overcast, but there wasn’t any shade to speak of.
A quick photo 101 lesson for those who don’t know already: you control light reaching your camera’s sensors (or film if you’re old fashioned) two ways: by shutter speed and aperture size. A small aperture lets less light in; a big one lets in more (the settings are called F stops … I’ve been so totally spoiled by automatic digital imaging that I’m only now getting around to learning how these settings work).
Here’s what happened when I tried to get the cool stream effect yesterday: I lowered the shutter speed like I always do, but with the aperture set as small as it would go (F8 on my cam), everything got blown out and overexposed.
Lesson learned: those cool-stream images work pretty much only in low light. In an exposed area without abundant shade you’d have to wait till dusk or start out very early in the morning — which, as it turns out, is the best time to take pictures anyway. But Murietta Falls is so far out there you’d have to camp out to make it happen.