Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls...
Okay, so maybe you actually should... but be prepared for a lot of work post processing them to get them to look silky smooth!
I can remember my very first waterfall photograph. Sandy and I were in Hawaii for our 10 year wedding anniversary, and we chose to visit a place called Akaka Falls State Park. It was a rain forest habitat with several creeks and rivers that formed waterfalls all through the park. It was an amazing sight to see, and I tried my best to capture it with my camera at the time (a Nikon D50 with 18-55 kit lens). We also traveled to San Antonio as a family and I attempted to capture images of the waterfalls that were on the Riverwalk. At the Oklahoma City National Memorial, they also had a water feature that looked like a waterfall that I tried to capture.
While I can look at those pictures and have a sense of what I saw, they just didn't quite capture the moment exactly like I remembered it.
When I started to get serious about different genres of photography, long exposure is one that really interested me. Using long exposures at night gives you awesome affects like star trails and light trails. I also practiced some "ghost" photos using long exposures. Waterfalls were one area I really wanted to learn to shoot with long exposures. The main problem is that you need a special filter for your lens... or so I thought.
You've read about Tony Northrup in my blog before. Watching one of his Youtube videos about how to use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to "simulate" a long exposure photograph was just the answer I was looking for in my quest for being able to photograph waterfalls. As soon as the video was over, I wrote the directions down and began searching for waterfalls in the Kansas City area that I could photograph.
My search first lead me to "Waterfall Park" right here in Independence. I actually brought my son with me on my first trip so that he could catch Pokemon while we were there. (Yeah... we play Pokemon Go!) When we got to the first waterfall, I got my gear out and started shooting. Once I figured out the settings I needed to get a decent exposure, I had to figure out how many photos to take to get the look I was wanting to get. The proper exposure was 1/10 of a second. To simulate a 10 second long exposure... I would only need 100 photographs...
I set the timer and let it run. Each time I changed the angle I had to take a second set of 100 photos. After nearly an hour taking photos We finished our Pokemon hunt and headed home.
Once I was at home I started the post processing. I had to first use Adobe Lightroom to fix any exposure issues (highlights, shadows, contrast, etc.) After that, I had to transfer them into Photoshop. The transfer process alone took nearly two hours. After letting the computer run in the other room while I ate some supper, I headed back into the computer room to start the Photoshop portion of the work.
There are 3 steps to create the long exposure affect in Photoshop. First I had to "Auto-align" the layers. The first set of 100 took over an hour to auto-align. Second I needed to create a "Smart Object" from the layers. This also took over an hour. Finally I had to change the "Stack Mode" to "Mean." Another hour gone by and I could finally see the final result.
I love the look of the silky smooth water. I love that I can do it with the gear that I have and don't need to buy a special filter. I love that I can share with you some of what I have learned and hope that you can try it for yourself.
Song: Waterfalls by TLC