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How I Got The Shot

April 12, 2017

This is the first blog post in what I hope will become a series.  I often have folks ask me "how did you get that photograph?"  In fact, I'm asked about that often enough that I thought it might make a fun topic for a blog theme.  So I'll be posting photographs and their back story, where they were shot and how I found the location and composition.  More importantly, I will discuss camera settings and what I did in the camera to create the effects that I hoped would capture the magic of the moment.  A composed and well thought out photograph is so much more than a snapshot!   A "picture" will preserve what I saw, a artful photograph will preserve how I felt when I saw it.   I hope these behind the scenes posts will help you next time you are standing in front of something beautiful and you want to create a photograph that will help you remember that special moment.


This first shot that I will tell you about is from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  I was on an autumn trip to explore the area around Munising, Michigan.  I had just finished a workshop there, but had a few days to hang around and revisit some of the places that I had seen during the field trips.  There is never enough time to fully explore an area when you are on a workshop, so I always try to build in a few days afterwards to play by myself.




This little waterfall area was off the trail about 10 yards and was very easy to overlook.  It is on the path to a large waterfall that gets all the attention.  But there was something about this intimate scene that called to me, so I was happy to have time to revisit it.  I planned my visit for late morning, because that would allow the sun to be up enough to light up the dark understory but the surrounding trees would still protect the waterfall from too much direct light.  I was hoping for reflections of the gold leaves in the water--and I got lucky!!  When I walked up on the scene, the water was reflecting the gold and green of the surrounding trees.  Perfect!!  


So now what?  I had the conditions I was hoping for, so I had to use my camera settings and lens choice to create the effect I wanted.  The waterfall is actually quite small,  not much more than a tiny cascade on a small stream.  So I needed to find a way to make it look larger and more significant in the scene.  When I want to make a foreground element appear larger, I always think wide angle lens!  So I pulled out my 16-35L and composed the shot.  


I tried several different positions but the best position to take advantage of the reflections was with me actually standing in the stream.  Of course!!!!  I carefully placed my tripod in the stream and positioned it low so I could lead your eye up the stream.   Using flowing water as a leading line is always effective, especially when the water is smooth and colorful.  By getting down low and shooting wide angle, I was able to make the stream and tiny waterfall seem bigger and more impressive in the composition.  


 My  landscape workflow in the field usually starts with my choice of aperture.  I chose an f stop of 11 for two reasons.  First, I wanted to be sure to get the background and the foreground rocks all in focus.  In addition, I wanted to give a slightly creamy look to the water, so I knew I'd want a slow shutter speed.  Using f11 should help me get that.  After choosing the aperture, I chose the ISO.  Again, because I wanted to blur the water with a slow shutter speed, I used my lowest ISO of 100.  Then, after choosing those 2 settings, it's just a matter of metering the scene and choosing the shutter speed.  For this shot, the correct exposure was 1.3 seconds.  I did a test shot and got lucky again, I liked the blur of the water and the exposure was right on.  


So I'm here, I've hiked in, I've waded in and I'm all set up.  I like the shot!  Am I finished?  By now, you should know that I am only getting started!!  Time to collect my assets.  I changed the shot by choosing smaller apertures and longer shutter speeds to see how that would affect the blur on the water.  I then bumped up my ISO a little to get a faster shutter speed to see how that looked.  After lots of shots and lots of fun, my feet were cold and I had enough images to feel content.  In the end, I chose the settings for the shot above because I liked just that amount of creaminess in the flowing water.  So often, slow shutter speed shots of moving water are too creamy and lose all texture.  So that is something to be mindful of when you are playing with shutter speeds.


And finally, remember to revisit spots that you think have potential.  Maybe try another time of day or another season.  You just never know when you might hit it right.  The photo below is what the scene looked like in August of that year.  It was pretty, and I thought it was an "ok" shot, but I suspected it might be much prettier with some fall color and a little more water flow.  Of course, I had to get my feet wet to get the first shot, but that's part of the adventure!!



Keep shooting and have fun!  See you soon with another "How I get that shot."


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