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Do Go Chasing Waterfalls: An Experiment in Shutter Speed and Mindfulness

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

A bit of a push was all I needed to get my lazy gluteus off the couch, and back into the lush greens of Everton Conservancy to shoot some waterfalls, flowing streams and all things green.

Nikon Z6ii + FTZ + Tamron 100-400mm Di VC USD @ ISO 100, f/9.0, 270mm & 1/4 sec for rocks, multiple exposures focus stacked. 15 sec exposure for the water using at f/45, ISO 50. Yes, f/45! I was experimenting.

Commitment is Helpful

I must admit that I have been lazy of late. Physically I mean. It does tend to happen in a depressive phase. The motivation to do 'stuff' is just not intrinsic. You do want to do things, or want to want to, but just don't because it has no feeling behind it. If somehow you manage to push yourself to start, then it is generally fine; it is just that start that's the hard part. So I have been very lazy. Not much hiking, nor the usual mountain biking, gyming or surfing. Last week though, the chairman of our photography club, Conrad, contacted me after having read one of the articles on my blog, wherein I spoke about waterfalls in the Everton Conservancy. He proposed joining me on my next hike. I had been thinking about it during the week, but like most things recently, thinking was as far as it went. So upon being asked when I was next going for a hike, I said, "This Saturday, actually." This was on Thursday evening. By after dinner on Friday night, lethargy and regret had kicked in, and I had told Leeanne that I wished I had not made the commitment. I am glad I had, though; it ended up being a great morning. It also kicked started me into wanting to go hiking again tomorrow.

"Oh captain, my captain." Conrad looking super professional, lining up a shot from behind the falls.


I had no idea that 'staying in the present by focusing on the stimulation of the environment' is known as mindfulness. I had been trying to do this for a while to help calm my mind. To reduce the amount of wandering my overactive mind does, subsequently reducing overthinking and anxiety. Someone had recently explained this to me and called it mindfulness. I have spoken about photography doing this for me before, and it was one of the main reasons that photography gripped me so quickly and so intensely 18 months or so ago. Like motorcycle racing in my past, when I am observing a scene for a shot, for a nice composition or for a minute detail that would normally go unnoticed, I am wholly present in the moment. In that one place, and only that one place. This is something very rare for those with an ADHD / bipolar-inclined brain.

I find myself doing this more and more these days. When I first started with photography, I would take many compositions and overall, a lot of shots, 'just incase.' I would then go home and find a few good compositions, but the majority were terrible. I have found that you have to get used to the fact that the image in the preview on your LCD looks very different when you get home and see it on a bigger computer screen. What looked like a great composition in camera, somehow just doesn't when you see it later at home, sometimes.

I have learned to slow down. To panic less. Nature is not going anywhere for the most part (save by consequence of human destruction). In fact, every time you go back to a location, or the one time that you are there in the case of a once-off trip away to a specific location, the changes that occur over time provide you with a new unique scene. The moment you capture in your image will never be exactly the same ever again. As a result, I spend more time taking in the environment, looking around and searching for intentional compositions. Nowadays, when I get home, what used to be 50-100 different compositions is 5-10. Instead of 10% being useful, 100% is useful. I know that is the same number of good images in the end, but it is a huge time and storage space saving. It is accompanied by the feeling of skill and growth rather than one of luck. Also, because I focus on fewer different compositions, I focus more on each composition, making sure that I capture the best exposure (or set thereof for stacking/blending). This produces what I think is a more authentic image and reduces the post-processing required. I will say it again, I hate post-processing.

Also, when I make mistakes, like I did in the images below, I am able to identify them and why they happened. This reduces the likelihood of a repeat incident. See if you can spot the mistakes in the next two images before I tell you what they are below.

Lessons Learned

In the next two images, I made the same mistake. In the first one, look at the bottom left corner of the moss-covered rock on the right. It is out of focus. So is a small strip of the moss itself. The shadows could have been handled better too. Why did this happen even though I focus stacked at f/9?

I was experimenting with the Tamron 100-400mm telephoto. I could easily have moved closer and used my 24-70mm. It would have easily captured sharp front to back in 2-3 shots if not one. Instead, at a focal length of 270mm, even at f/9, depth of field was so shallow that I took 8 shots front to back that needed to be stacked.

Herein was the problem. What looked like I had covered the entire scene in 8 sharp segments turned out to have a dead zone where I did not overlap enough to focus stack completely. I made this mistake twice.

The second time was in the shot of the close-up of the spider and fern spiral. Firstly I was lazy and did not set up my tripod, so shot handheld. Secondly, it is not unusual, when using an extension tube in macro photography, to suffer from shallow depth of field.

In this case, I made the mistake of insufficient overlap again. Look at the area of the stem in the second image below, just above where the spider's web connects. You will notice a small section that is out of focus. The bottom was left out of focus intentionally, but after sharpness starts, it should not be interrupted.

Waterfall Shutter Speeds

When we got to the falls, which I have been told is actually called Mphithi Falls, I was in no hurry to get shooting. I had shot the falls before. I looked for an alternate perspective to capture. Once again, with the 100-400mm, I zoomed in on the area where the water crashed on the rocks. I wanted to experiment with how different shutter speeds change the feel of the image. I expected that longer exposures would create that ethereal smokey mist that we all love creating with moving water, and a faster shutter speed would better emphasise the force of the water crashing at the bottom of the falls. However, which shutter speeds give the best representation of each? It will vary depending on the volumetric flow and velocity of the water as well as the height of the fall. Have a look at the images below for what I found. To me, the shots that make me feel the splashes on my legs, like it felt in reality, was best represented at shutter speeds of 1/40 sec - 1/60 sec. Note: I have specifically referred to the feel that is conveyed by the image. It was not necessarily how it looked. It is the creative direction in the image that I feel best conveys the feeling of the moment that took me back to the experience.

1/100 sec

1/60 sec

1/50 sec

1/40 sec

1/30 sec

1/25 sec

1/10 sec

1/4 sec

15 sec

Please shout out if you would be keen on joining me for a hike sometime. It may drag me out of laziness when I need the kick, and it would be great to compare photographic or mental health notes. No need for professional gear; a smartphone would be fine. It's about learning to see and take in the environment more than the quality of the images, which in either event, are pretty decent from most smartphones these days.

Until next time...

Your Bipolaroid Photographer 😁📸

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