Going With The Flow

DSLRs let you hone in on a subject and work it to find the single, perfect shot

Cascade Falls, Yosemite National Park, California, 2005


Rock and Water, Cascade Falls, Yosemite National Park, California, 2011. Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L USM, ½ sec. at ƒ/27, ISO 32

On a recent trip to Yosemite Valley, I spent some time photographing waterfalls. The water levels were still very high for the time of year, but they were down quite a bit from the highest levels earlier during the remarkable spring of 2011. I had been stuck in my office for far too long, working for about two weeks straight catching up with orders. I desperately needed this water therapy!

I had the idea of finding some water details and abstracts here at Cascade Falls. I wanted to see what variations I might come up with, like the detail shown below, made in 2005 using a fast shutter speed. I worked with bright sunlight again, but doubted I had any worthwhile images, so I ran my errands and came back to this location, to the same spot, in the evening.

These two images are of the same section of the falls, the smaller 2005 image being a detail within the area of the larger image along the center-left edge. One of the reasons for showing this is to depict how vastly different two interpretations can be. I also want to mention how much I photographed in both sessions. My longtime friend of 27 years, Michael Frye, posted an excellent comment on the OP Blog recently about how many frames he made trying to find the best combination of texture and pattern in his waterfall image called "Why Am I Taking Forty Frames of the Same Thing?" It happens that his photograph was taken at Lower Cascade Falls just over the cliff from where I made the frames in this column.

He made a critical point about why he made many variations of one composition, with the same camera settings, to find the one frame that stood out above the rest. Even with the same shutter speed, each of the 40 frames was different. Doing the work paid off for Michael, and it will for you, too.

I use the same approach, especially with photographs showing moving water, including waterfalls, but also subjects such as surf at the beach. Not only do I make many frames with the same settings, but I also bracket my shutter speeds. I've been photographing moving water for a long time, but I'm never quite sure which shutter speed will give the best effect for a given scene. I watch the water carefully, looking for prime moments of action, like especially high leaps of spray. I make a burst of frames, and when I think I've caught a good moment, I'll move on to another shutter speed.


For the "Rock and Water" image here, I made around 100 frames total using six or seven shutter speeds. When editing my images from this day, I had 450 frames made at several locations.
I reviewed each frame with Adobe Lightroom's Compare View tool to slowly edit down to the best expression of what I saw and felt. Each exposure had subtle differences. The larger image was made with a 1⁄2 sec. exposure, the 2005 image at 1⁄1000 sec. My point is that it takes this kind of extra effort to push one's work to the next level.

There are some people who might presume that this approach is sloppy, lazy and a "spray and pray" technique, but if used with intense focus on fast-moving and constantly changing subjects such as a waterfall, the technique can capture nuances that would be missed otherwise. I do believe in photographing with discipline and with as much intentional vision as possible. After all, for most of my career, I used a 4x5 view camera and had limited funds for film.

For the "Rock and Water" image here, I made around 100 frames total using six or seven shutter speeds. When editing my images from this day, I had 450 frames made at several locations. I reviewed each frame with Adobe Lightroom's Compare View tool to slowly edit down to the best expression of what I saw and felt.

Enjoy the luxury of digital capture as I've discussed here, but don't depend on a high volume of captures or the possibility of rescue in Photoshop as an excuse for lack of attention to the details of lighting and composition. The freedom of this approach can be educational if the results are studied carefully. It also can allow the photographer to capture thrilling moments in time, such as the "frozen" and "blurred" images shown here, that are beyond human perception.

To learn about William Neill’s his one-on-one workshops, ebooks (William Neill’s Yosemite, Meditations in Monochrome, Impressions of Light and Landscapes of the Spirit) and online courses with BetterPhoto.com, and to visit his PhotoBlog, go to www.williamneill.com.

2 Comments

    As a fan, I found most of William’s 4×5 landscapes near perfect. His digital images don’t get a second look from me.

    That is not a reflection on him and his current work as he is clearly on top of his game.

    His digital work is, however, different to what he used to produce and somehow, for me, doesn’t hold any of the allure and beauty of the older work.

    Dear Mr. Neill,

    This image “Cascade Falls” is great. My eyes travel the photograph. Seeing good light, composition, and even a little rainbow in the upper left. Your Images as usual, never cease to amaze or inspire me. Thank you!

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