Tag Archives: waterfalls

Where The Huldufólk Abide

Gasadalur Waterfall and Village, Faroe Islands (Denmark) Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 16-35mm @ 21mm, 1 second @ f16, ISO 160

Sunrise comes super early to the Faroe Islands but not that it really mattered. My weeklong stay was dominated by foreboding, pewter grey skies, fog, rain, wind, and often all of the above simultaneously. This was also true of Iceland during the ten days preceding my flight to the Faroes, but somehow this felt even worse. The islands seemed genuinely angry at my arrival and its displeasure was measured in buckets of the falling wet stuff.

I jokingly made reference of this to an English-speaking gentleman at the airport and he (jokingly?) said it might be the Huldufólk, The Hidden People or elves who reside in another dimension. The native range of these mythical creatures apparently extends to both Iceland and this small Danish island in the North Atlantic.

“You do believe in elves, don’t you?” he asked in a lyrical, Scottish brogue but without any hint of irony.

“You ever hear of Bigfoot?” I responded in my best sarcastic American snarl. He has, in fact, not heard of Bigfoot

“Never mind,” I said.

So for the next four and  a half days, I cursed the rain and my doomed trip to these beautiful set of islands. I cursed my lack of planning (I was sleeping in the car), the cold nights, the jet stream, and the stupid elves too. Especially those vile little creatures.

You do believe in elves, don’t you?

Shut up, please!

So, you are probably reading this and thinking, so what about the image at the top of the page?

The ideal script would go something like this: It’s my last night in the Faroe Islands and I’ve been shut out. The bad elf voodoo has brought me to me knees and has finally made me a believer. As I drift off to sleep that night, I repeat the refrain, I do believe in elves. I do believe in elves. I do believe… The next morning, epic sunrise, right?

Wrong. I got lucky. Luck. Now there’s something I can believe in.

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Incredible Iceland in Pop Photo

“Behind the Falls” Southern Iceland’s Seljalandsfoss on a bright, sunny evening.

I have a new article published in the May issue of Popular Photography magazine entitled Incredible Iceland. That’s their title, not mine. My preferred Warming up to Iceland was a bit too cute for them, I suppose. Anyway, the article begins on page 50 with the above image as the opening spread. The colors in the magazine are printed rather dark and dull, so enjoy this version before you read the printed word.

“Behind the Falls” at Seljalandsfoss was created during last year’s Epic Iceland tour and it was my favorite take from this location. I experimented with different shutter speeds, as I usually do, and this one – 1/250 of a second – projected the look and feel for which I was aiming. I really like the cascading water effect rather than the smooth, silky look of a longer exposure for this image. I’m often asked about “rules” concerning exposure times when handling moving water. No, there are no rules but I do have a few guidelines.

First, and this is strictly personal, I prefer to keep some detail and texture to the water. Long exposures that turn moving water into featureless white blobs smeared across the image frame do absolutely nothing for me. I want to keep the water’s texture and detail while still creating the illusion of motion.

Second, the heavier the water, the shorter the shutter speed. This goes back to what I just said above. It’s much more difficult to retain that texture and detail with heavy, fast whitewater than lighter water flows.

Third, since I am almost always much more interested in how the image will make people feel rather than how it will look, I want to ask myself how the choice of shutter speed will affect its emotional impact on the viewers. My own experience and emotional reaction to the scene will dictate that choice. For example, large waterfalls that move heavy volumes of water project power and rage and I want that emotional trigger embedded in the image so that viewers can feel that power, rage, or fury too, even if they can’t feel the ground vibrate or hear the cascade’s thunderous roar. A faster shutter speed seems to express the heaviness of the water and by extension, its power as well. Conversely, slower shutter speeds express lightness, grace, and fragility. Waterfalls and cascades with gentle water flows or elegant, stair-stepping design characteristics project an air of fragility and grace. That’s how I want those images to feel to my audience.

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Waterfall of the Gods

Waterfall of the Gods

This is Godafoss of northern Iceland, Waterfall of the Gods. In the year 1000, the formerly pagan chieftain Thorgeir threw his trinkets and wooden images of the pagan gods into these cascades after Christianity had been accepted as Iceland’s official religion. Godafoss, thus became it’s name.

My simple photographic interpretation of this grand waterfall was taken near twilight with no clouds in the sky and as little clutter in the foreground as possible. Nothing fancy, but I was drawn to the simplicity and color palette of the scene. The composition and wide-angle distortion could be misleading with regard to scale here. The waterfall is over 40 feet tall and 100 feet wide.

Canon EOS 5D MarkII, Canon 16-35 f/2.8 @ 20mm, 25 seconds @ f18, ISO 100. July 2012

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Water and Motion

Curiously, one of the most often-asked questions I receive (aside from inquiries on which camera I use, which is just plain ridiculous) is how I make the moving water in my images smooth, silky, foggy, like cotton candy, etc. It’s curious to me because of how easy it is to do. A camera, lens, tripod, polarizing filter, and some overcast light are all that’s needed to achieve a long shutter speed in order gain this effect.

I call this the illusion of motion since a still photo cannot literally illustrate movement but a long shutter speed can still express it effectively.

But merely saying you need a long shutter speed is not enough information for a beginning photographer. For example, how long is long enough?

Roaring Fork, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee. 1-second exposure @ f16

For most stream and waterfall images, I usually aim for a shutter speed in the range of 0.5 to 2.0 seconds. The example above has an exposure time of 1 second, which seems just about right for this image. I prefer the illusion of motion in my water images most of the time but I still want to retain texture and detail in the water. Under most circumstances, exposure times over 2.0 seconds renders the water as an unattractive, featureless white smear.

Yet this is not always the case. There are other factors that must be considered before deciding on a desired shutter speed.

1)   The volume of water. As a general rule, the greater the water flow, the faster the shutter speed. A heavy waterfall with a great volume of water will lose more texture and detail with a longer shutter speed than a similar waterfall with less water.

2)   The focal length of the lens. If you think about it, the water (or any moving object for that matter) must travel a much greater distance to span the image frame with a wide-angle lens than a telephoto.

3)   The subject’s distance. Again, the same principle in #2 also applies here. The farther away the stream or waterfall, the longer the water must travel to span the image frame than a closer subject.

4)   Personal taste.

Schoodic Point, Acadia National Park, Maine. 1/8 second @ f11

Schoodic Point, Acadia National Park, Maine. 1/8 second @ f11

Of the four factors listed above, personal taste – or scene interpretation – is probably most important. For example, a relatively slow shutter speed can express grace or fragility. A faster one can project raw power or even violence. In the example above, the relatively fast shutter speed of 1/8 second expresses the explosiveness of the wave as it crashes on the rocks. Had I chosen any slower shutter speed and the detail in the exploding wave would have been lost.

Hunting Island, South Carolina. 30-second exposure @ f18

In the example above, I preferred no detail in the water.  I wanted this image to reflect pure simplicity and any waves on the ocean’s surface would only be unwanted, unnecessary distractions. A 30-second exposure smoothed out the water, giving me the simple, elegant image I was hoping for.

To achieve shutter speeds of many seconds, you will need a low ISO and/or small aperture and/or low ambient light and/or filtration. As to the latter, I use neutral density filters for long exposures when the ambient light is too bright. Neutral density filters are made of darkened glass which absorbs light without imparting any color cast to the image.

For beginners, a 3-stop ND Filter is a good start. A 10-stop ND Filter will allow for much longer exposures even in bright sunlight, but it’s difficult to focus and compose the scene in the viewfinder since the filter is nearly opaque.

A third alternative is the Singh Ray Vari ND, which allows you to change the strength of the filter to fit each lighting situation.

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Eleven for ’11: Looking Back At My Favorites

Once again, it’s that season when we look back and reflect on what we’ve accomplished during the past year. Hopefully, there is some degree of accomplishment. We all have a finite number of years remaining and every one of them should be lived to its fullest – to achieve real personal growth and experience as much as one is capable of in a short 365. Last night I sat awake and ruminated over the past year and I feel as if I accomplished many – if not most – of my personal and professional goals for 2011. I still feel as if I have a lot to prove – not to any one person, mind you, but only to myself – and I’m looking forward to a challenging and exciting 2012 as well. And with that, a Happy New Year to you all.

As for the images that mark many of my fondest experiences, here they are in no particular order. These are only my favorites, for whatever it’s worth. You may disagree. But I do hope you enjoy the indulgence of my reminiscing on the year that was through the lens.

September 2011: Midway Geyser Basin by Moonlight, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming USA

May, 2011: Canyon Flame, Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona USA

March 2011: Los Cuernos, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

August 2011: Ursa Major, Lake Clark National Park, Alaska USA

July 2011: Reynisdrangar at Twilight, Iceland

March 2011: On Earth as it is in Heaven, Iguassu Falls, Brazil

November 2011: Wall Street, Zion National Park, Utah USA

July 2011: Braurfoss at Midnight, Iceland

September 2011: Beam Me Up, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming USA

July 2011: Dyrholaey Puffins, Iceland

October 2011: Indigo Dawn, Acadia National Park, Maine USA

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