Interface Images
Landscape by Keith Ratcliffe  
© 2008

Ice Cream or Sparklers

How do you like your waterfalls sir? This is a good question to ask before you press the button on your latest water scene. The current trend if the magazines are to be believed would say ice cream. In many pictures that I have seen recently it seems that the water should be depicted as a solid mass of white or subtly peat-tinged cream stuck to a black rock with a few leaves spread around as garnish. Yes this is attractive but it is over worked and begs a question about alternatives. Before we consider these let me say that the real art of waterfalls is to get this concept right and as I look at my October page of Joe Cornish’ Northern Light calendar I can see such a successful result. The water is thinly spread through the main image of beautiful leaves on dark rock and sets context yet never dominates the overall impact. There is no doubt that this is a waterfall but it does not over power the picture.

So where do we start with waterfalls? When you look at a waterfall firstly ask yourself  - what do you see? Does it appear as a solid mass or is it a delicate spray of droplets or streamlets? Then decide how you can best depict the effect that you see. If you see the solid flow image then you need a long exposure – ¼ second or more to capture that effect. This probably requires a very small aperture and may even need neutral density filters to achieve the result. The small aperture that goes with this certainly manages the focus issues by providing ample depth of field for the whole subject. You will of course need a tripod to provide the stability for a blur free image. 

Ice Cream

If you see a dynamic display of droplets then you need the sparklers programme, which means using a rapid shutter speed, 1/60 sec or faster, inevitably coupled with a large aperture with its consequent limited depth of field. If you have really bright light then you might get 1/250 or better and really stop the droplets. In these digital days of course you can always find an adjustment to help you and setting the ISO value really high (800 or 1600) can come in really useful to give a faster shutter speed but at the expense of a graininess (Ok, noise if you weren’t brought up on film) that may not be intrusive in such an image. Such pictures can be taken with a hand held camera but for perfect sharpness and meticulous composition we will probably still use the three-legged friend.


This is all very well but I am still working on a picture that I have visualised but not yet captured. My eyes see it as a broken cascade with droplets of spray falling into a pool but this moves slowly and appears as a solid flow. So I need one approach to the top half of the picture and a different technique for the lower half. I need the High Dynamic Range approach of recording two images of the same scene using different camera settings that are then merged into one picture using Photoshop. I can only say that this is work in progress and provide no evidence to support it – watch this site for any results.

© Keith Ratcliffe

October  2008

To see any of the Landscape diary items that you have missed please visit the Archive

Landscape Archive