Author: Michael Greene
Today I am sharing with you the techniques that I used to make this image of McCloud Falls in the Trinity-Shasta National Forest in Northern California. First, it is important to understand that conditions for photography were relatively perfect for this capture. This picture was taken on a soggy, still, and overcast morning around 10 am. The grey skies diffused the light eliminating any distracting glares or harsh contrasts in the shadows and highlights. Rain from earlier in the morning had saturated the color of the rocks, soil, trees, moss and cliff walls. And most importantly, there was minimal wind resulting in a clear capture of the foreground greens and flowers growing out of the streambed. It should also be noted the water flow on this day was unseasonably low and happened to be ideal for photography.
During processing, I used two intermediate to advanced Photoshop techniques as I blended for both depth of field and dynamic range. The first thing that I did is settle on a base image. My base image is a photo that I will rely on the most to make up my finished picture. In this case, it was focused on the background, exposed for the right of the histogram, and captured at F/13, ISO 100, with a shutter speed of .3 with my Canon wide angle lens. I found F/13 was a small enough aperture setting to ensure proper depth of field with sacrificing too much resolution of the overall picture.
Because this exposure clipped most of the highlights in the waterfall I used a separate image captured at F/22 ISO 100 with a shutter speed of .5 exposed towards the left of the histogram. The reason I chose F/22 was simply to achieve the proper shutter speed of .5 without having to use an additional neutral density filter, which creates more of a chance for human error. After processing the RAW files in Lightroom, I simply copied and pasted the images together in PS carefully hand painting the water exposure in on top of my base image. (Areas denoted by orange arrows)
Finally, I needed another picture with a focus on the foreground greens to blend into the image to achieve proper clarity from foreground to background. (Area circled in blue) I chose the settings of F/18, ISO 100, with a shutter speed of .3 to capture this part of the scene. Again, it is important to note there was very little wind as .3 shutter speed to capture delicate foliage is long and even the slightest bit of motion will result in a loss of clarity. In fact, there was a subtle breeze during my session and the image that I chose was not my sharpest one. Before I tell you why I selected it, I’ll briefly explain the ways to offset this with a faster shutter speed.
First, I could have removed my polarizer. Second, I could have selected a larger aperture setting. And lastly, I could have chosen a lower quality ISO speed. The reason I picked the settings that I did is because of the blend. I wanted it to be as seamless as possible. The most difficult part of the blend is the tiny, delicate flowers growing out of the greens that show up in the image flush against the mid-ground rocks. Here you’ll see what I mean as it is circled in red. If I had selected an larger aperture like F/8 those rocks what have been noticeably out-of-focus. Again, I copied and pasted the image on top of the others, aligned them, and hand blended.
In a nutshell and without bogging you down in more technical details that was the basic way I created this image. Of course color correction, contrast adjustments, and creative techniques were used as well, but the most important part was the ground work I laid during capture. I hope that you find this tutorial helpful please let me know if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to answer them.