Making a Waterfall Look Smooth & Silky

I can remember years ago looking through a book of nature photographs and seeing a waterfall picture. The water didn’t appear to be frozen in time like you would normally expect. It appeared to be blurred and silky smooth. It was almost like it was still moving in the picture. The splash area at the bottom of the falls looked like cotton. It was a beautiful picture. At the time I thought that it must have been painted that way with some sort of computer graphics manipulation.

When I got my first digital camera, a Sony DSC-S30, back in 2000 I slowly learned that you could keep the shutter open a little longer and blur certain parts of a picture that moved while the rest of the image didn’t. Here’s a 8 second exposure that I made with that old Sony back in 2001. I haven’t tried to do blurred car lights since then. I think now that I have a nicer camera, it’s about time to revisit this technique! I’ll get back to that in another blog entry later.

8 Second Exposure from 2001 with Sony DSC-S30

8 Second Exposure from 2001 with Sony DSC-S30

I never tried making a long exposure on a waterfall until November of 2011 when I took my daughter to the Tennessee Aquarium. I had my Canon Powershot S3 IS with me that day. This was about a month before I bought my first DSLR. I was starting to get a little more serious about photography. I decided that day that I would not use Auto mode at all. I would try to use Manual, Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority modes only.

I’m pretty sure I was in Shutter Priority mode for this waterfall picture. In Shutter Priority mode, you set the shutter speed and the camera sets everything else to go with that speed. This was a hand held shot so I couldn’t set the speed too long because I would blur the entire picture if I moved any at all. I ended up using 1/5th of a second for the shutter speed. Even though this wasn’t very long it was still long enough to get some nice blur to the waterfall at the Tennessee Aquarium.

Tennessee Aquarium Waterfall hand Held 1/5th Second Exposure

Tennessee Aquarium Waterfall hand Held 1/5th Second Exposure

A month later I purchased my first DSLR. A Nikon D7000. Most of my early shots with the new camera were of City and Landscapes. I’ve started learning how to do HDR and some tone mapping. All of these will be subjects of future blog entries. I was invited to join a local photography group and started learning from and being influenced by it’s members.

One member, John Aldrich found a pretty waterfall on the side of a busy street right here in Hamilton County, TN. Around that same time a friend of my fathers, Bret Douglas, who is also a member of the photography group made a photograph of the back side of the Chickamauga Dam with the spill gates open and water flowing over. Bret explained that he used a Neutral Density Filter and that allowed him to do a longer exposure without overexposing the picture. I ordered my own Neutral Density Filter that very day!

I went to the falls that John had found and made some pictures. There had been heavy rain the night before so the stream was really flowing well.

This first image is with a fast shutter speed. No Neutral Density Filter used.

Aldrich Falls 1/200 of a second exposure

Aldrich Falls 1/200 of a second exposure

It’s a great looking little falls even without the long exposure effect I think.

The next image was exposed for 1.6 seconds. I had to mount the camera on a tripod so that the only thing moving is the water. It’s a beautiful effect.

Aldrich Falls 1.6 second exposure

Aldrich Falls 1.6 second exposure

You can click on the photos to see the full size version. They look much better.

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2 Responses to Making a Waterfall Look Smooth & Silky

  1. Pingback: More From Aldrich Falls | Phil Thach

  2. Pingback: Chickamauga Dam Spillways | Phil Thach

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