Behind the Lens - Skogafoss Photographer

I was just visiting with someone in the gallery who was flipping through my Iceland calendar and stopped at this photo and wondered how it was done.

Firstly, it took time. As soon as I started driving down the road towards this massive waterfall I pictured this photograph in my mind. There's a lot of technical hurdles I had to cross to nail it though and it took me over an hour to get it the way I wanted it.

Firstly, the photo was taken from more than a half of a mile away from the waterfall. I did this because I wanted to truly show the scale of the falls against one of the people who kept climbing up the rocks to take photos. Distance has a 'compressing' effect and it makes it easier to show the scale of different objects that are a different distance from the camera.

Being that far away, of course, I needed a large lens to zoom in so I used a 500mm f/4 lens which is pretty massive.

Secondly, I wanted the water to be blurred and if you know much about photographing waterfalls you know that it needs to be a long exposure at least one second or more depending on how fast the water moves. That's normally not necessarily a problem as long as you have a tripod but that's enormously difficult when you are using such a large lens, tripod or not. One reason is that even the slightest movement of the lens or camera is translated into a blurry photograph.

The camera's mirror slapping up to take the photograph causes the image to be blurry. I used a camera mode where you can trigger the mirror first, wait a few seconds for the camera to steady and then trigger the shutter.

I was using an incredibly sturdy tripod, but even then, if the wind was blowing the camera moved imperceptibly but enough to ruin the photograph. I used my vehicle and my own body to try to shield the lens from the wind too.

I always use a shutter release cable so I don't have to physically touch the camera in order to take a photograph. This helps to eliminate movement as well.

Another hurdle I had to jump was the fact that it was a bright, sunny day. Usually getting your shutter speed as slow as 1-2 seconds in daylight requires you to use a very high f-stop on the lens which I don't like to do. I like to keep my f-stop for photos like this right around f/8 or f/11 as it maximizes the clarity of the lens. Using f/22 actually makes the image a bit more blurry, despite the increased depth of field. As such, I was using a 10-stop neutral density filter inside the lens. This is a glass filter used to reduce the amount of light coming in through the lens to lengthen your shutter speed. This 10 stop filter reduces the amount of light coming into the camera by a factor of 1000 which is perfect for blurring waterfalls. Unfortunately, it also has the side effect of you not being able to actually see what you are photographing. I had to set the photo up, focus it, compose it and then put the filter in. From then on I can't actually see what I am photographing.

So now that I had the vision of the photograph in my head, a massive lens that was incredibly steady, a shutter release to take the photograph that I couldn't actually see while I used my body to block the wind from swaying the lens I had another problem...

I couldn't actually communicate with the people I was photographing. In fact, they had no way of knowing they were actually the subject of this piece of art that still only existed in my mind. I basically had to wait for a single person to climb the rocks (more than one person would be too distracting, I think), and then hope that they would hold perfectly still long enough for me to take a long exposure photograph so that the water was blurred - but not them.

Finally, I got the photo but it took more than an hour and hundreds of blurry photographs long since deleted.