I love photographing waterfalls. Unfortunately, life on the Canadian Prairies doesn’t offer a lot of nearby opportunities. So on my recent trip to Jasper National Park I took advantage of a hike up to Stanley Falls.
The great thing about this hike is that, not only are Stanley Falls worth the hike, but the trail along Beauty Creek is lined with multiple smaller waterfalls. It was a wonderful way to spend half a day, or so, taking the time to photograph each of these falls.
While I didn’t get a good shot of Stanley Falls themselves (didn’t find a good vantage point to really create a good composition) I did find some interesting shots by zooming in on the fast flowing stream, such as in the following image.
Here are several of the falls along the way.
Even the fast-flowing water of Beauty Creek is gorgeous.
The silky appearance of the water is created by using a long exposure, which necessitates using a tripod. It is extremely difficult, if not virtually impossible, to hold the camera steady enough for the length of exposure necessary. So of course this meant lugging my tripod along on the hike. In the middle of the day, in order to accomplish the slow shutter speed, not only is the tripod a necessity but often a neutral density filter is necessary. An ND filter is essentially a dark filter which cuts down on the amount of light entering the camera. Therefore, in order to let enough light enter the camera, you need a longer exposure.
Think of it as 100 people trying to get into a stadium. If you have 5 turnstiles that allow 5 people at a time to enter, the crowd will get in fairly quickly. If you close 4 turnstiles so that only one person at a time can enter, you will have to allow a much longer time period for those 100 people to enter the stadium.
Another useful device is a polarizing filter (which acts like polarizing sun glasses) which helps cut down on any glare from the water or the wet rocks alongside the creek. I carried, and used, a polarizing filter and several different strengths of ND filters on the hike.
Notice the difference amongst the three images below. The version on the left is taken at 1/60 sec. The middle one is taken at a longer 1/15 sec, while the one on the right is taken at a significantly longer 30 seconds. Notice how the water has some texture in the left image, appears slightly silky in the middle image and very silky in the righthand image.
How silky the water should be is totally a matter of personal choice. I generally like the appearance of silky water that still has a little texture to it. Others may prefer more texture in the water (more like the image on the left above). Either preference is totally fine. As the old saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Spoiler alert, my final processed image earlier in this post was actually a combination of three different exposures: 1/15 sec, 0.8 sec, and 25 seconds. I combined bits of each exposure to achieve the balance of texture and silkiness that I wanted.
The final component to a decent waterfall shot (and perhaps the most important) is good lighting. This does not mean bright sunlight shining on the water: in fact, that produces the worst effect. Waterfalls are often in shady environments, either surrounded by trees or rocks. If direct sunlight is shining on the water, it creates a huge contrast between the darker or shaded parts of the scene and the bright water. The camera has trouble accommodating this huge range between dark areas and bright areas (referred to as dynamic range). As a result, it tries to either expose for the darker areas leading to totally blown out bright areas (i.e. the bright areas are just a white blob with no detail); or the camera tries to expose for the bright areas which means the darkest areas are totally black with no detail in them. The best scenario is when clouds are covering the sun leading to a nice, soft, diffuse light. Of course, early morning or late in the day, when the sun is low in the sky and probably not shining directly on the waterfall, can work very well too.
As, on the day of my hike, the sky was a mix of clouds and clear blue sky, it took a bit of patience at each waterfall to wait for the right conditions. Essentially, at each stop, it meant finding a composition, setting up the camera, then waiting for the clouds to cover the sun to create the ideal lighting conditions. That meant my stops along the way ranged from about 15 minutes to an hour or so. But in each case, the wait was worth it.
Here is a shot along Beauty Creek to the mountains beyond. There was some smoke in the air, from the BC wildfires, which created a bit of haze.
The next two photos are probably my two favorites of the day.
Feel free to leave a comment and let me know which was your favorite image above.
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