Öxarárfoss Waterfall

My wife and I recently had a 3 day mini break to Iceland, unfortunately it rained for most it and even more so in the areas I wanted to photograph. It wasn't a photography holiday as such, but I would have been even more disappointed if it had been!

This shot of Öxarárfoss waterfall in Þingvellir National Park is one of the very few I came home with which weren't taken in the wind and rain!. The waterfall flows from the river Öxará over the Almannagjá and is one of the main attractions of Þingvellir National Park.

 This is me aligning the Lee 0.6 ND Hard Grad filter (note blown out/over exposed sky) ©Judith Hopley, Panasonic DMC TZ-3, 4.6mm, 1/160th at f/3.3, ISO 100

Many of you will be aware of my obsession with #WexMondays, a weekly Twitter based photograph competition run by Wex Photographic, the largest independent online photographic specialist retailer in the UK. This shot was to be my week 33 entry.

The camera I used to take the shot was my little Canon EOS-M, which I use as my travel camera purchased from WEX along with my Lee filters including, my favourite of all, The Big Stopper. I used a 0.6 (2 stop) Hard Grad Neutral Density filter to balance the sky with the relatively dark foreground and the Big Stopper, a 10 stop Neutral density filter, to extend the exposure time to create the extreme motion blur in the clouds and water. I took a test shot without the Big Stopper and checked the histogram to make sure the scene was correctly exposed, the correct exposure time being 1/15th of a second. Using an exposure calculation table, I calculated the exposure time using the 10 stop filter to be 85 seconds. I used a remote release to trigger the shutter to remove the possibility of camera shake.

Incidentally, the purchase of the EOS-M was how I found out about #WexMondays, from an advertising leaflet that came with it. It is #WexMondays and the association with the competing entrants I credit for my inspired improvement of my photography over the past 18 or so months, the banter which is generated between everyone who takes part is also a joy to be part of. #WexMondays provides the 'drive' for me to take at least one 'worthy' photograph each week.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to make the top 3 in week 33 but the lovely people at WEX have invited me to share my story and workflow as to how I created the final image. 

Firstly, let's start with the unprocessed RAW image:-

Luckily, I just managed not to clip the highlights out of the image whilst retaining some detail in the shadows. Even before I had taken the shot I knew how I was going to process the image back home. I wanted a high contrast mono image with the clouds and water having a high rate of 'motion blur'.

1. The image was imported into Lightroom CC 2015 and was cropped to remove the rocks at the bottom, I also 'pulled back' the highlights to regain the detail in the clouds just above the waterfall edge.:-

2. I wanted to make the blue in the sky quite dark, but I often find in Lightroom that the blues can go a bit 'mushy' when moving the sliders to their extents, so I opened the image into Photoshop via Lightroom for further processing. As always, before I process an image in Photoshop, I create a 'Layer from Background' and duplicate it, just in case I need to refer back to the original photo or use elements from it for the final image. As you can see from the image below I applied a 'Brightness/Contrast' adjustment layer to just the copied layer and reduced the brightness.

3. Often when increasing contrast or over processing images, a halo effect can occur in high contrast areas. In the screenshot below you can see the subtle halo where the sky meets the rocks, the sky appearing lighter nearer the dark edge:

4. I moved the original image to the top of the layer stack and removed the sky; firstly by adding a 'Layer Mask' then using the 'Quick Selection Tool' to highlight the sky, I then painted out the selected masked area.

5. Going back to the copied layer; using the clone tool I removed the lighter areas of the sky, not worrying about cloning over the rocks. 

6. Below is the image with all layers turned back on, the halo removed.

7. The image was saved in Photoshop and closed, it then appeared in Lightroom where I could make final adjustments. Firstly it was converted to Black and White and the Green/Gray levels were increased to reveal the moss on the rocks. Adobe recommend that the Lightroom sliders are used from top to bottom, which I would usually do, but in this instance I was a bit random in my approach as you can see from the History! Clarity was increased as was sharpening and noise reduction, and a vignette applied. Radial filters were added near the base of the waterfall to darken the rocks and create a 'layered' effect. The new Dehaze tool in Lightroom was then used to add further contrast.

8. Finally a graduated filter was added to further darken the sky.

9. This is the final image. It wasn't a particularly challenging photograph to take, a couple of small water droplets landed on the filter which had been blown from the waterfall whilst the exposure was taking place and I had to carefully remove them with a lens cloth. The problematic issues that can occur when taking long exposures are in constantly changing light conditions, several shots may need to be taken to get an average exposure time before calculating the time required when using a 10 stop filter. Lots of experience also helps you to determine the exposure time. Sometimes I may decide to amend the calculated exposure time, once I have started the exposure, if the light conditions dramatically change. Sunrise and sunset long exposures are especially tricky to get right and an amount of educated guesswork is sometimes required to get an acceptably exposed image. Taking all the above into consideration, I would give this type of shot a 6.5 out of 10 difficulty rating.

Over the 3 days we had in Iceland, I only managed to take a small handful of 'keepers', this for me being the standout image. If you head over to the 'Latest Additions' page in 'Galleries' you can see some of the others.

Camera settings:
Manual Mode, f/16 (f/8 would have been sufficient for the depth of field required but f/16 increased exposure time), 85 seconds, Focal length 20mm, ISO 100

Equipment used:
Canon EOS-M with EF-M18-55mm f3.5-5.6 IS STM kit lens
Manfrotto Compact MKC3-H01 Tripod
Lee 0.6 ND Hard Grad Filter and Big Stopper
Canon RC-6 Remote Shutter Release

You can buy all the above from WEX by following these links:-
Canon EOS-M - http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-canon-eos-m3-digital-camera-with-18-55mm-lens/p1567369
Manfrotto Tripod - http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-manfrotto-compact-action-tripod-black/p1554772
Lee Big Stopper - http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-lee-big-stopper/p1519732
Lee Grad Filter - http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-lee-neutral-density-0-6-hard-graduated-resin-filter/p1010469
Remote Release - http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-canon-rc-6-remote-control/p1519993