Out of the Ordinary '
on film for effect
By Rob L. Suisted
in New Zealand Outdoor magazine)
|I’m lying here in a tiny tent
high up in tussock country, above South Westland. The
rain and sleet are continuous and have been lashing us now for
4 days! We’re itching to get outside and find some more
of the elusive Chamois and Tahr we’re after, but for now we’re
confined to the ‘pit’ (sleeping bag). Four days of staring
at yellow nylon walls can really get to you!
wind is making the tent shake like a badly shaking thing.
Pea soup mist is scudding past at 50 knots, and a new born
creek is freely moving under our groundsheet - what’s new,
if you've been in the mountains you've probably been there?
In the brief interludes in the weather, I’ve been getting
about enough time to: a) empty the bladder of the copious
amounts of caffeine my hunting mate seems to brew on the half
hour; b) retighten the guy ropes on the spinnaker we’re living
in; c) enlarge the drainage moat with my spoon; and d) take
some decent photos of the rapidly multiplying waterfalls that
are thundering down around us. It’s option ‘d’ that
helps to maintain a certain amount of sanity at present, but
the freezing water and mud that squeezes up through my toes
doesn’t help. Lying here now it seems like everything
is moving except us - it seems to me like an apt moment to
start an article on capturing movement on film.
In this article
I hope to debunk the mystery behind a couple of types of images
we’re all familiar with. They’re both types that tend
to be quite spectacular, and make viewers go ‘Wow!’ but are
extremely easy to take, especially when you’re in the hills
next. They’re what you might call ‘chocolate box’ images
for the obvious reason - images of cascading waterfalls in
lush green forest, and the amazing night images you might
occasionally see of star trails sweeping across the sky.
Both of these images rely on capturing movement to lift them
from the ordinary, and fortunately they’re both very simple
I attempted to
give a very basic understanding of the principles of camera
use in my last column. The emphasis was on taking your
camera off fully auto and getting back into the drivers seat
- understanding f-stops, shutter speeds and ASA etc.
Without a solid understanding there is no ability for the
photographer to develop his or her skills beyond a certain
level. This article is an opportunity to take your photography
beyond the basics. You will be easily able to produce
some satisfying results.
I admit that a really good image of pure white water cascading
wildly over mossy green rocks deep in a NZ rain forest will
always give me a good feeling. I can conjure up all
kinds of similar sights from my hunting trips, whether they
are from the local ranges or deepest, wettest, mossy Fiordland,
they mean a lot. They also seem to provide a lot of
enjoyment to the general viewer, and as such they can be
eagerly sought after by image buyers, hence my image library
bristles with them. Here’s how to produce some outstanding
results for yourself.
Your first prerequisite
is for a calm, overcast day - easier said than done.
I strongly recommend that you hold out for one of these as
it makes all the difference.
Wintery alpine creek, Mt Adams, Westland.
Note that depth of field (focus) extends front to rear and
that the overcast day does not produce any harsh shadows or
highlights. 50mm lens, 1 second at f16. Fujichrome Velvia
Being overcast the lighting
will have a significantly lower contrast level (no deep black
shadows and bright burnt out sunny areas) and the colour saturation
of the final product will be much greater as a result, helping
to produce those luscious greens. A calm day is necessary
because you’ll be using long shutter speeds to blur the water
movement and it is helpful if the neighbouring vegetation
is not trashing about in a violent southerly or it will be
blurred also. Taking these images after rain produces
a nice glistening look to rocks and vegetation.
A sturdy tripod
and a cable release is an absolute necessity to steady the
camera and I suggest that you start with a wide angle lens,
say 28mm or 35 mm. The reason being that you’ll derive
more depth of field (focus) with a wider lens for the same
aperture. Depth of field is of course critical in the
exercise as we’re keen to get the whole image into focus from
front to rear.
Next we must
select a site. Try a reasonably fast flowing stream
as it will produce a good supply of whitewater in the final
product. The composition is yours to decide, but a few
good pointers would be to use a fast dropping stream so you
can have the stream wind up through the back of the image,
and select a section of stream that has a decent set of cascades
spread sideways across it. Often placing the tripod
in the middle of the river gives nice results - Be careful!
Think about doing
a little ‘cleaning’ of your image, e.g. you might decide to
lift any undesirable objects out of the picture, such as dead
twigs, or small rotting logs if it improves the picture.
I’m normally against this, but if it is done think about replacing
them also. Purists may criticise this but, it could
be argued that any photo is a manipulation of the real thing?
Try sprinkling a few coloured dead leaves, yellow or red ones,
around in the foreground for interest.
If you’re after a nice cascading stream then I suggest you
initially aim for about a 1/2 sec shutterspeed to nicely blur
the image. The level of ‘blurry-ness’ is related to
the shutterspeed and the water speed.
A vertical plunging waterfall might only need 1/15 sec shutterspeed
to give a nice result, while a slow deep river might need
about 30 seconds. So, once you’ve set up the photo you’ve
got to choose your exposure. Start on 1/2 sec and let
the camera give you the aperture setting. Note though,
that I’ve found fast flowing water can trick some camera lightmeters.
To our eye, fast flowing water looks reasonably clear, but
in the resulting image it will be come out pure white.
This tricks the camera’s lightmeter into thinking that there
is more light available than what there really is and it will
try and give you a higher light reading as a result - underexposing
the photo. Therefore, I compensate for this by overexposing
the camera’s suggestion by 2/3 to one stop when there is a
lot of cascading water in the frame.
The next step
is to practice. I don’t expect to get a really pleasing
result every time I photograph a stream like this, there are
just so many variables. The trick is to take a selection
at every site, varying perspectives (camera close to the water,
above the water, from both sides of the stream), shutterspeeds
You can also
experiment with different lens filters. On an overcast
day it is worth trying a ‘warm up filter’ (normally a 81b
type). This has a slight orange/brown tint that gives
a pleasing warmth to a scene and is often nice inside the
bush. Also, try a polarising filter. Most people
only use this filter on sunny days to darken the sky and whiten
the clouds, but it is very useful in this instance for taking
the reflections off the water and raising the colour saturation
greatly. However, the down side to the polarising filter
is that it cuts the light entering the camera down by 2 stops
(only allows a 1/4 through), but this isn’t really a problem
if you’re using a tripod, it just means even slower shutterspeeds
which are what we’re using anyway.
There’s no need to put the camera away once the sun has gone
down, and you’re comfortably relaxed under your tent fly.
Some really spectacular images can be taken on those clear
starry nights in the mountains.
above!’ 5 1/2 hour time exposure looking South-east
from Donnelly’s Flat, Tararuas. 50mm lens at f2,
Fujichrome Velvia 50 ASA.
I remember years ago seeing
striking night time images showing the rotation of the heavens,
in National Geographic magazine, and thinking they were pretty
amazing. I still think they’re pretty impressive, but
it’s not the same when you know how simple they are to create
- have a try yourself - there are countless possibilities.
As the Earth
rotates, the stars in the night sky circle around the Southern
Pole. By using a long shutter speed (hours instead of
seconds) we can capture the paths of the stars as they move.
First, you need
a starry night, second, a tripod and lockable cable release
(if it’s not a locking one just use some tape to hold the
button in), and third, a decent wait. You can predict
where the centre is that the stars will rotate around, and
this is a good point to start. Point the camera true
South (use your compass), and the centre should be about 45
degrees above the horizon (but will vary from summer to winter).
Now, there are
two key things to know. The time that the shutter is
open for only effects the length of the star trails, not the
exposure (unless the moon is out). The aperture setting
you select effects the thickness of the star trails, and so
does the film speed you use (a faster film, say 400ASA, the
more distinctive the trails will be). So, the longer
the shutter can be left open the better, and the larger the
aperture (say f2.8) the brighter the trails will appear.
Again, I recommend using a wide angle lens, say 28mm. Put
your camera on manual and set the shutter speed dial to Bulb
(B). This allows the shutter to remain open for as long
as the cable release is locked on. A lot of modern cameras
rely on battery power to hold the camera mirror up while this
is happening, so you might need fresh ones. Set the aperture
as wide as possible (say f2.8, or use faster film if you’re
using a zoom lens that doesn’t have such a large aperture),
set the focus on infinity and line up your shot - this is
easier said than done, but a torch is good for checking the
camera is a least level. Last of all, lock the shutter
open and retire back to the scratcher for at least an hour.
a bit when the moon is out though, but this just adds more
dimensions to your results - don’t get it in the picture though.
I’ve listed a few rough exposure times to try:
Star trails with no moon (f2.8, 100 ASA for as
long as possible)
Star trails with half moon (f2.8, 100 ASA for 1 hour)
Star trails with full moon (f2.8, 100 ASA for 40 minutes)
Try also starting
the exposure in the late evening before the sky is fully black,
the end result will be a pleasing blue tinge to the sky, rather
RT Star trails above the Hodder hut, Inland Kaikouras.
Taken during a full moon (which puts colour into the surrounding
land and sky), and pointing true South (showing centre
of rotation top centre). Note the torch light trails
of someone going out to wash dishes, and the candle light
in the windows. 24mm lens, One hour exposure at
f2.8, Fujichrome Velvia 50 ASA.
note on using print film. If you do this on print film
and you receive your prints back and the night sky is a sickly
looking grey colour, instead of a deep black, take them back
and ask for them to be reprinted (it should be at no extra cost).
Because most processing machines run automatically, they are
set to expect an average mid toned photo, but not all photos
are like this, such as your one with a black sky. Therefore
the machine will try to turn your photo into an averaged toned
mid grey colour by overexposing the final print, hence the result
(the same thing happens if you’ve ever had photos of snow come
out a murky grey colour).
Well, you might think that it’s a bit daft providing info
on how to take photos of waterfalls and stars in a hunting
magazine. On the face of it I’d have to agree, but,
both are activities that I regularly enjoy on hunting trips,
and they neatly fit around the hunting activity itself.
Streams are excellent to photograph on those wet, ’pit
days’ around camp, and the heavens provide excellent activity
on those winter trips when the sun sinks below the horizon
at a miserable 4pm.
As you’ll see, the last photo example I’ve included of the
‘Ghost deer’ is a direct combination of the two - hunting
and capturing movement on film. I haven’t seen a photo
like this before and it’s rather interesting for one reason
only, that it has uniquely captured the movement of the
animals in a way that ‘lifts it out of the ordinary’!
Next issue, we’ll
be tackling photographing animals while they’re still!.
‘Ghost deer’. Time exposure of a wild hind and fawn, taken
in the half light of early morning. 4 seconds
at f 5.6, Fujichrome 400 ASA.
This article and images are
copyright to Rob L. Suisted - Nature's Pic Images. All rights