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Portrait Tips: Waterfalls and speedlights

What’s not to love about making portraits in front of waterfalls? Beautiful place, beautiful people, water spraying your camera, nothing going the way you had in mind — it’s a blast!

When you photograph a bride and groom in front of a waterfall, you need that smooth water look. If you use a fast shutter speed, the staccato splashing is too sharp and distracting. Instead, use a long shutter speed to let the water wash over itself during the exposure and create that soft smoothness that will compliment your portrait.

Use a polarizer or ND filter

But to get that long shutter speed, you’re probably going to need a filter on the lens to darken the whole picture. In this picture, I used a polarizer combined with an overcast day so it was just dark enough to get the shutter speed down to 1/13s at f/5.6. Looking back, I wish I’d used a smaller aperture and a little longer shutter speed — f/8 and 1/6s would have been great. Slowing the shutter would really have made the water look smooth. An ND filter could have let me slow it down further.

Use a flash and software

However, since it was overcast and since the couple was under dark trees, there was no light to set them apart from the scene. I needed to light them up with some flash. But I also wanted the light to be soft and focused only on them. That means I needed a large light (for softness) positioned very close to them (so it wouldn’t spill all over the scene).

Using a wide-angle 15mm lens didn’t make it easy to get the close, though. But, since I was using a tripod to achieve the long shutter speed, the solution became clear: Composite two pictures together. My lovely assistant held the light in close in one frame, then backed out for the next shot. All I had to do in Luminar was to open both pictures as layers, then paint in the area without my assistant in it. After a couple of filter adjustments, the picture was ready.

So, next time you find yourself in front of a waterfall with lovely subjects, remember to get that shutter speed going long, and don’t be afraid to use a little darkroom magic (Luminar magic) to get the picture looking just right.

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.

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