Tag Archives: Waterfall

Discovering my vision at Rainbow Falls, CA

I went to Rainbow Falls in California’s Eastern Sierra over the July 4th weekend.  My first visit to the falls was in the middle of the day, with my family.  Since the sun was shining into the falls at that time of the day, it formed a rainbow at the base of the falls upon which it is named.  From a photographer’s perspective, the light was too harsh and no good waterfall image could be produced at that time.

I came back the next day, early enough before sunrise, to get the light right for a waterfall image.  While the grand view from the standard vista point was great, it did not offer anything satisfying for me.  For example, one search for Rainbow Falls, CA in images.google.com, yields several images of the standard view.  I began by making a standard view image as well.  Here it is.  It does not impress me and therefore it has not been published in my web gallery.

Rainbow Falls, CA

Rainbow Falls, CA. (Standard View from Vista Point)

After getting the standard shot out of the way, I started exercising my visual imagination to make additional more satisfying images.  Using my 70-200mm f2.8 lens at 200mm, I made a frame that was later cropped to this 1:3 format.  This is a section of the waterfall towards the right side of the view from the vista point.  To me, this image is a compelling composition.  It has a series of waters falling from the top right into the bottom one-thirds of the image, where there is a diagonal flow of water from the left to the right.  There are distinct shapes and flows in the top, middle and bottom one-thirds of the image that grabs attention.

Rainbow Falls (section), CA, USA

Rainbow Falls (section), CA, USA

Another shot using my 70-200mm f2.8 lens with 2x teleconverter (set at effective 400mm), is shown below.

Rainbow Falls (section), CA, USA

Rainbow Falls (section), CA, USA

This one shows a single strand of waterfall to the right of the image counter-balancing the diagonal cascade going left to right.

Another 400mm shot is shown below.

Rainbow Falls (section), CA, USA

This one emphasizes the wall of water towards the right of the view from the vista point.  The wall of water and its shapes/texture is counter balanced by the rocks at the bottom right.

As I wrapped up my shoot, I used the same 400mm setup to frame a couple of shots of the runoff from the falls.

Runoff from Rainbow Falls, CA.

Runoff from Rainbow Falls, CA.

This one showcases the whites from the falls runoff counterbalanced by the green grass on the shore.  I saw this first and upon closer examination, I found a dead fallen tree bark whose branches pointed towards these whites.  I thought that they formed a perfect set of complementary subjects to juxtapose in an image.  Here it is.

Dead tree bark and whites from Rainbow Falls runoff, CA, USA

Dead tree bark and whites from Rainbow Falls runoff, CA, USA

Notice how the shapes in the branches of the dead tree bark, mirrors the shapes of the whites (the branches pointing one way and the whites following it).

Using this post, I want to encourage more photographers to look beyond the obvious.  The first thing that you see when you get to location should be photographed, but one should not stop there.  The better photographs come from staying there, a bit longer, and looking for what else is there, or, how else the scene may be photographed.  Changing viewpoints and changing lenses are the simple exercises to get you started on the road to eventually change what you see and see more.

Working a composition

When I come across something interesting to photograph, I do not click one image of an obvious composition and walk away.  I start with the obvious compositions, but I keep refining and altering my position, until I have attempted a lot of variations.  Very often, when I review my work later in Lightroom, I find that my later refinements bring out the fine keepers.

I photographed a waterfall along Fern Creek in Muir Woods, CA, last week.  Let me illustrate how I worked the composition in that case.

The following image is the first image I made when I saw the waterfalls.

Waterfall, Fern Creek, Muir Woods, CA, USA

The first image made of the waterfalls

This first image has a number of branches coming in the way of the view of the falls.  Clearly, I don’t like it and try another shot by moving a bit.  The next image shown here removes a bunch of the blocks and the view is somewhat clear.  However, one fern leaf snuck into the lower end of the image.  It is important to understand that I was viewing through the viewfinder on my f2.8 lens, but I was shooting f22.  This causes this fern leaf to be almost invisible in the viewfinder, due to shallow depth of field, but it shows up in the f22 image.  Plus there is a brown twig in the lower left of the image.  I see all this in my LCD panel and decide to try again.

Waterfall, Fern Creek, Muir Woods, CA, USA

The next image made

I moved and made the following image, in an attempt to remove distracting blocks to the view of the falls.  The following image has problems though.  Some other brown dried leaf has now snuck in, plus the brown twig on the left is still there.

Waterfall, Fern Creek, Muir Woods, CA, USA

The next image made

After some more adjustments to my tripod position, I made the following image.  This composition is almost OK, but, during the 30 second long exposure, I got distracted talking to my kids in the nearby trail and accidentally touched/hit the tripod during the exposure.  Observing the top edge of the rock, just after the falls, I realize that it is not exactly sharp, due to the accidental hit to the tripod during the exposure.

The next image made

I try again, this time getting a sharp image, with minimum distractions.

Waterfall, Fern Creek, Muir Woods, CA, USA

The next image made

Taking one of the final frames during these series, as my base, I decided to use Lightroom to crop it and develop further.  FInally, I removed some branches and twigs to clean it up further.  The final result is as shown below.

Waterfall, Fern Creek, Muir Woods, CA, USA

My final finished image

Many beginners ask me what I mean, when I say “work the composition more”.  I decided to illustrate using this example.

Let me know if you have any feedback on this post.

7 Lessons from a Waterfall Image

Fall leaves and small waterfall, Uvas Canyon, Morgan Hill, CA, USA

Fall leaves and small waterfall, Uvas Canyon, Morgan Hill, CA, USA

  1. In overcast conditions, look for colorful subjects (flowers, foliage etc) to make intimate landscapes.  Given the time of the year (mid-Nov), photographing fall leaves was a no-brainer for me.
  2. If possible, emphasize something in the foreground, against the background subject.  In this case, I found this colorful leaf for the foreground to anchor the shot of a background waterfall and more leaves.
  3. Photograph extensive depth images with a wide angle lens.  I used my 17-35mm f2.8.
  4. Use f22, if there is a foreground object very close to the lens, along with background that is far away.  This ensured front to back sharpness due to extensive depth of field.  My lens was about 9 inches away from the foreground leaf.
  5. Use your camera’s native ISO to keep the noise to the minimum.  I used ISO 200, native to my Nikon D300.
  6. Use a tripod.  The shutter speed for this shot was 30 s.  I could not have done it hand-held.  I used my light GK1580TQR5 tripod, coupled with my Kirk BH-1 Ball head.  This tripod is light enough and small enough to actually fit inside my camera backpack.  At the same time, I was not impressed by the ball-head that came standard with this tripod.  I therefore took it out and fitted my Kirk BH-1 ball-head to it.  I now have a fine light tripod, with an extraordinary ball-head.  This tripod provides the stability to shoot long exposures.  This ball-head provides ability to quickly and easily fine-tune my composition, once the tripod is setup.
  7. Do not trigger with your finger.  Use an electronic cable release.  I used one for this shot, to eliminate any camera shake, resulting in a sharp image.