Last Saturday we took a trip up north to spend the day. We rented a side-by-side and spent a couple hours on the trail. The foliage was near-peak and it was beautiful. We hit the outlets in North Conway and picked up our favorite olive oil, vinegar, and cupcakes. In between, we took a trip to Crystal Cascade, a beautiful waterfall in Pinkham Notch. I brought multiple cameras, a tripod, and filters to get some smooth waterfall shots. I’ve attempted to photograph waterfalls before but never prepared properly. I planned this one out so it would be different, and it was.
The trail opens to the lower falls first, which had already been staked out by another photographer when we arrived. We continued to the upper falls and only found one family there. I was surprised to get a spot right in front of the falls and had 15 minutes or more of uninterrupted time. It was awesome.
I setup a tripod with my D750 with and trusty 24 – 120 mm f/4 lens. The outlook to the falls was far enough away that I didn’t need anything wider. I attached a neutral density filter to cut down some of the light and started shooting 1/5 to 1 second exposures to blur out the water. I quickly noticed the filter was unnecessary because the f/8 – f/13 aperture I needed for sharpness reduced the light enough on its own. The filter also added a bit of haze to my images and made them look faded. It was kind of cool, but didn’t allow the foliage to pop.
I swapped it for a polarizer and got much better results. Once I finished at the top of the falls I moved to the bottom. The other photographer had left so I took her spot. It was mid-afternoon, and the light wasn’t super soft, but it was still usable when filtered through the trees.
My exposures blurred the water smoothly, but I had to contend with a couple new things I hadn’t though of. While it wasn’t a problem at the top of the falls, people were an issue at the bottom because they could walk on the other side right into the background of my image. I was worried there would be a constant stream of folks ruining my backgrounds but the crowed dissipated after a few minutes. I also hadn’t considered the impact of the wind. I intentionally took longer exposures to blur the water, but it also blurred leaves blowing in the breeze. I had to ensure I was focused far enough in and take several shots of the same composition to catch the leaves when they weren’t moving. Blurry leaves ruined a few of my shots, but I had enough overall that it really didn’t matter.
Post-processing was pretty minimal and consisted of warming up the images to match how they felt when I took them, lowering the highlights on the water to make it more visible, adjusting the saturation to make the leaves pop, and adding a bit of vignette to focus the image. I had a really tall shot that included some leaves up by the sky but they were so blown out that I had to crop it out. I wish I had taken some underexposed images to make up for it, but I’ll save that for next time. Overall things went very well and these are by-far the best waterfall images I’ve ever taken.
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