Editor: We’re honored to have an excerpt from Photofocus team member Nicolesy.  She’s just released a great new book and video series called Landscape Photography.


When photographing waterfalls and running water, one thing I know for sure is that I will be using an ND filter. These filters decrease the amount of light coming in through the lens and also come in different levels of “stops.” This means that a 3-stop ND filter will increase your exposure time by three stops, a 6-stop ND filter will increase by six stops, and so on. I currently have three ND filters in my inventory: a 3-stop, a 6-stop, and a 10-stop (named the Big Stopper).


This image was my test exposure. 1/6 second ƒ/11 at ISO 100

When I set up my shot, I don’t always know which filter to use, so I have to do a little bit of testing and use some experiences from other outings to decide what to try. I usually know that I want my exposure to be somewhere in the one- to three-minute range, because that will give me that “cotton-candy” look in the water that I love so much. The sunlight in this location was bright enough that I knew I would need to cut out a lot of the light, even on an overcast day, and so I ended up going with a 10-stop ND filter, which ultimately allowed my shutter to be open for 171 seconds for the main shot (2 minutes 51 seconds).


The longer exposure created using a neutral density filter. 171 seconds ƒ/11 at ISO 100.
Notice how differently the water looks in each photograph.

Next, I needed to find a good composition in this location. When I’m on the hunt for the spot I want to photograph, my lens will often help do the searching for me. For this location I decided to go with a longer lens, the 70–200mm. A wide lens, such as a 24mm (one of my other common lens choices) was just too wide for this scene. I wanted to focus in closer on the details so I opted for the longer zoom. Then, once I had my camera set up and ready to go, I used Live View on my cam- era to view my scenes. Moving the camera around and looking at the LCD screen with Live View turned on helps me see the scene a little differently and can really help frame my shot, especially when using a longer focal length.

There were sticks showing in one of my earlier compositions (C), and I didn’t like the way that the two rocks in the foreground were overlapping in the frame (D).

There were sticks showing in one of my earlier compositions.

Once I found the spot I wanted to photograph, I tried a few compositions to see what would work best. I started out by standing a little further back from the scene to get a lot of the details and more of the background in the frame. I quickly learned that this was not going to work, because there were just too many random twigs and sticks in my frame. So, I moved in closer and composed a little bit differently, but when reviewing the shot I realized that I didn’t like the way the two rocks on the bottom right were “touching,” and also that there was nothing to balance the frame in the upper-right corner. So, I repositioned myself, added space between the two rocks on the bottom right and fit another mossy rock into the upper-right corner of the frame.

There were sticks showing in one of my earlier compositions (C), and I didn’t like the way that the two rocks in the foreground were overlapping in the frame (D).

I didn’t like the way that the two rocks in the foreground were overlapping in the frame.

For scenes like these, I’m usually looking for a nice balance of rocks, one in the foreground as well as something of interest in the background, and I find the balance by looking for “triangles” in my scene. These are not so much actual triangle shapes, but rather are items in the scene that, if you were to draw lines in a connect-the-dots fashion, would create a triangle. Balancing your composition this way can help keep the eyes in the scene and prevents them from wandering off of the frame. It’s not always necessary, but for some compositions it can help extremely and keep the entire photograph in balance.


Be sure to check out Nicole’s new book  Landscape Photography.

Get a free sample chapter here —

lavender-square-150pxNicole S. Young is a professional photographer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of several print books and eBooks, and runs her own online store for photographers, the “Nicolesy Store“.

You can read more of Nicole’s articles HERE, and view her work and website HERE.

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Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. Thanks guys! I just got into landscape photography and this looks like just the resource I need. I like forward to reading Nicolesy’s book and watching the videos!

  2. Sometimes I forget to keep looking around the scene to find a good composition. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Why is that smooth water look so desirable?

    Is it inconceivable that it could fall out of fashion in a few years?


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About Nicole S. Young

Photographer, author, entrepreneur. I love photographing food and landscapes, and have written several how-to books on Photography, post-processing, and creative inspiration. You can find more about me on my blog, online store, as well as on Google+ and Twitter.


Landscape, Photography, Shooting


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