By Kevin Moss
For me, September and October are busy months for shooting nature. In my area of the world, specifically Michigan, it is fall color time. While one million are preparing to head north in the next few months for deer hunting season, I prepare in August planning my annual trek “up-north” for my kinda shooting, with a camera.
Silver City, Michigan
I’ve been making this 300 mile trek for a good number in the past 15 years. The first time I headed to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (as well call it, the “U.P.”), was 15 years ago. Back then, I was shooting color slide, specifically Fuji Velvia. Since then, I’ve made it up to the U.P. six times since then. Always alone, with no real plan of where in the U.P. I was headed. The best kind of roadtrip!
What I’ve learned in all of these trips, was the best locations for fall color shooting in the region. Though I’ve actually found substantial opportunities for fall color in the “L.P.”, or lower peninsula of Michigan, the L.P. doesn’t have one element that I like to shoot, waterfalls. Michigan’s U.P. is blessed with some of the most dramatic waterfalls in the country, and that’s what I like to shoot in early October.
From trial and error, and a little research, I’ve located spots in the U.P. where waterfalls abound. My favorite spot is the Picture Rocks National Lakeshore, which is located on the coast of Lake Superior. Often using the town of Munising as my base camp, I could literally spend 2 weeks in the immediate area, and not hit all the waterfalls that are available. Often, I’ll return to the same sites to shoot the same waterfalls I might have shot years ago. My techniques keep getting better, and sometimes, weather conditions are better one year from the other years. My tip; never be hesitant to return to the same sites you’ve visited before. Practice can make perfect! With repeat visits, you’ll learn the area better, familiarize yourself with the best lighting conditions for the subject, and compose your shots differently than in the past.
My tips for optimum waterfall shooting include:
Lighting: Like shooting tree’s in autumn, the best lighting is overcast, especially in between rainstorms. In the U.P., it rains almost every day in the fall. You want that dark diffused lighting in order to slow down your shutter speed…
Shutter Speed: In order to get that blurred-smooth-flow look to your waterfall scene, you need to shoot at a shutter speed of 1 to 1.6 seconds. In order to achieve a properly exposed scene at those slow shutter speeds, you’ll need to set your aperture to a setting of f/16 or smaller, up to f/22. You’ll get great depth of field, with the entire frame in focus too. If the lighting is too bright to bring your shutter speed down to 1 to 1.6 seconds, try a neutral density filter…
ND Filter: A neutral density (ND) filter is a must for waterfall shooting. Placing an ND filter over your lens reduces the amount of light, thus decreasing the shutter speeds to accommodate the reduction of light, without affecting color in your scene.
A tripod and remote shutter release is essential to obtaining sharp images at slow shutter speeds
Tripod and Remote Shutter Release: At shutter speeds of 1 to 1.6 seconds, use of a tripod, a good tripod is a must. Additionally, at those speeds, you’ll also need the assistance of utilizing a remote shutter release. Using a remote shutter release eliminates any vibration introduced to your camera when your finger actually presses the shutter. Trust me, a remote release, available for almost all camera models, makes a huge difference in obtaining sharp images. If you don’t have a remote shutter release, try the “poor-man’s/women’s remote shutter release”…
Your Cameras Self Timer: Using your cameras self-timer feature will accomplish the same effect as using a remote shutter release. When this feature is set, you press the shutter, and the camera doesn’t expose your film or image sensor for a pre-set number of seconds. Setting your self timer to 5 seconds will allow for any vibrations to cease when pressing the shutter button.
Next Up: Fall Color Road Trip: Part II, Color
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