Thursday, January 27, 2011

How To Take Pictures Of Waterfalls

Click On The Image For A Larger View

Waterfalls are a magical show of sight and sound.  Capturing these tumbling cascades of rushing water with your camera is not hard, but taking one that you will treasure requires some forethought and planning.  This particular waterfall, called Soco Falls, was taken just east of Cherokee, North Carolina not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Smokey Mountains.  It is located on a winding road with a very small parking area near the road.  A 5-minute hike down to a wooden platform on the steep hillside gives you a nice view of the falls.  Click here for directions to the falls.

I took a few pictures but the lighting was not good.  The falls were lit by a high afternoon sun, with dark shadows and bright highlights.  I wanted more subdued light so I came back late in the evening, when the sun was no longer shining directly on the scene.  Instead of shooting from the wooden platform looking down on the falls I decided to hike down near the creek below the falls.  Carrying a camera and a tripod was not easy on the slippery path of rocks and mud (later I found out that a few people have fallen to their death at these falls).

With my camera on a tripod, I set my zoom lens to its widest view, 18mm.  To get the silky-water look you need a fairly long exposure, so I set my camera to aperture priority mode.  Aperture priority lets you set the f/stop (its aperture) manually while the camera sets the shutter speed automatically.  The larger the f/stop number you use, the longer the shutter speed has to be to get the same amount of light into the camera's sensor.  The setting for this picture was f/22 with a shutter speed of 8 seconds and an ISO 200.  The other thing that you need is a shutter release cable otherwise just you touching the camera's shutter button will blur the image.

Long exposures to capture the moving water is almost impossible in bright sunlight, so wait for more subdued lighting.  Cloudy, even rainy days are perfect.  Stop down the lens for long exposures to get the silky-water look.  And finally, taken lots of pictures from many viewpoints.  One is bound to be just the one you are looking for.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How To Take Pictures of Lightning

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Not a Winter scene for this cold first month of a new year, but a Summer scene I took back in 2007.  This was taken from the Astronomical Society of Kansas City's dark sky site south of K.C.  Instead of viewing stars on this particular night, we were viewing one of natures marvelous light shows instead.  The lightning was far away from us.  The smoke you see near the horizon is coming from a power plant about 12 miles away, so the lightning is striking some distance beyond that.

Taking pictures of lightning is fairly easy.  First and foremost, take them from a good distance away and not in the middle of the storm itself.  Needless to say, lightning strikes are extremely dangerous.  Instructions for Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras are shown here, but non-slrs can also be used, you'll just have to read your camera instruction book to learn how to set it in manual mode.  And of course learning how to use your camera's various modes is always a good thing.
  1. You'll need to have a camera that allows you to set it manually.  Most of the time auto exposures and auto focus do not work in this type of situation, so you'll need to set your camera to manual mode.  Once in manual mode set it to "Bulb".  This setting allows you to hold the shutter open and take long exposures.
  2. You will also need a shutter release cable to allow you to open the camera's shutter without physically touching the camera.  Touching the camera during a long exposure will of course jiggle it ruining the image.
  3. A tripod is a must, since hand holding the camera during a long exposure will also ruin the picture.
  4. Getting a good focus is a little bit tricky, but easy if you know how.  You first need to auto focus the camera on a distant object.  This could be a distant street light or something bright enough so that the camera can focus.  The camera will not focus on darkness or very dim light, so if you leave auto focus on while trying to image the lightning, the auto focus will not have time enough to lock on a brief lightning flash, so it's best to focus on something bright, then turn auto focus off.  The camera will now be in focus so long as you dont touch the camera's focus ring or zoom.
  5. Set the ISO speed to about 400 or so.
  6. Once the camera is set, put it to where the lightning is flashing the most, open the shutter with the cable release and wait for it to flash.  Once you see a flash or two, close the shutter.  Take a look at the camera's LCD screen to see how it turned out, then quickly open the shutter again.
You can get more than one lightning strike on the same image, like I did in the above image, but be aware that sometimes too many will wash out the image.  It's all trial and error, so just keep shooting.  It's just like fishing.  Once in a while you'll get a big one.