I am opening this topic in the General Backcountry rather than the Photography forum as it may of interest to hikers in general. Although the features of a digital SLR would be very helpful in achieving this type of photo, the technique might be accomplished with some point and shoot cameras. All of my photos were shot with a Canon XTi digital SLR.
The following was shot with a Canon 90mm tilt-shift lens with 2x Canon L teleconverter, f/8, 1/8 second ISO 100:
The following was shot with a Canon 90mm tilt-shift lens with 2x Canon L teleconverter, f/11, 1/20 second, ISO 800:
In order to achieve bright foliage reflections in a waterfall it is necessary to finely resolve a few conflicting photographic factors.
Bright water reflections require bright sun, but bright sunlight is the enemy of most waterfall photos as it produces more contrast than can be effectively rendered in a photo. The bright sun will wash out the highlights and white water and block the details in the shadow areas, trees, and rocks surrounding the waterfall. In general most waterfall photos are best achieved on overcast days, but that solution will not help the objective at hand.
The bright sun will also create a glare on many water surfaces. A polarizer filter can lessen the glare. However, in the process this filter will reduce the reflections on the water surface which defeats the objective. For the objective at hand a polarizer filter cannot be used.
A solution is contained within the following basic guidelines:
- Photograph on a sunny day for the brightest reflections.
- Find a waterfall locale and time when the waterfall is in the open shade to minimize the glare of the sun.
- Find an angle of view where there is bright, sun drenched foliage on the opposite side of the stream, directly opposite your vantage point so that the foliage reflects in the shaded, reflective water surfaces of the waterfall. Notice that slight changes in your vantage point may radically move the color reflections in the waterfall. Move around and try both high and low vantage points.
- In general try to limit the amount of white water in the photo as white water does not reflect the foliage well. In general you will find that smaller cascades and sluiceways will be more reflective than tall waterfalls. Also telephoto lenses may be more useful than wide angle lenses to include the more reflective sections while excluding most of the whitewater.
- It is often acceptable and interesting if small pinpoints of sunlight filter into your frame of view. Trees were shading the waterfall in my photos above. Small bits of sunlight did filter through the trees and provided some small interesting sparks in the photo.
- The right time of day will vary greatly depending on the locale. It is a matter of when the waterfalls will fall into the shade, and when the reflected foliage will be sunlit. Some locales will have very narrow windows when the factors are correctly aligned. Others have wide expanses of time which remain optimal. Many waterfall locations do not work at any time of the day.
- Use a tripod or other camera support to get sharp photos with slow shutter speeds. This will allow you to obtain a pleasing motion blur in the water. Experiment with a variety of shutter speeds and amounts of motion blur. The amount of acceptable and pleasing blur is often a matter individual taste. Fast shutter speeds can freeze the motion of the water. The frozen look may appear a bit unnatural, but you find that look interesting.
- The proper exposure can be tricky, and the camera may not select the best exposure. With a digital camera you can review the results in the LCD screen and adjust with over and under compensations as needed. You can further hone the exposure later on your computer, but you will want to get close to a good exposure in the field to avoid losing detail in the highlight and shadow areas of the photo.
In any geographical region you should be able to find photo locations where all the factors align properly for good reflection photos. They tend to be few and far between, but they are well worth the effort to find. Once you find a workable location make notes about which time of the day is optimal.
Visit the location in both high and low water conditions as they will produce very different photo opportunities. The following photo was shot at the same location as the photos above. It was shot after a day with 2.5 inches of rain produced a more than 2 foot torrent which deluged the small cascade. The photo was shot with a Canon 90mm tilt-shift lens with 2x Canon L teleconverter, f/8, 1/13 second ISO 100:
I tend to use an expensive Canon tilt-lens for most of my waterfall reflection photos. The tilt feature allows me to achieve greater depth of field photographing relatively flat surfaces which are not parallel to the camera's sensor plane (camera back), and to achieve this without stopping the lens down to a small aperture. However, for most cascade and waterfall photos that is probably not a critical factor provided you stop the lens sufficiently to get the needed depth of field. To illustrate this I shot some photos with standard zoom lenses, and the results were quite acceptable. The following was shot with a Canon EF-S 18-55 zoom lens at 38mm, f/22, 1/6 second, ISO 800:
The following was shot with a Canon EF 70-210 zoom lens at 105mm, f/22, 1/8 second, ISO 800:
Although autumn foliage reflections may be the most colorful, reflections can be an interesting project in any season. The best time of day to photograph a particular location may vary significantly with the season. I have noticed that some sites which provide good autumn reflections do not work at all during midsummer because of the more northerly path of the sun.