Anatomy of an Image: Scotts Run WaterFall (Part 2) by Paul Waldo


In Anatomy of an Image: Scotts Run WaterFall (Part 1), I described how I got the raw material that will eventually become the image above.  My goal was to create a moody, textured image that highlighted the blurred waterfall.  In this post, I'll show how I used HDR Efex Pro from Nik Software to create this image.  In the interests of full disclosure, the walk-through is a recreation of the editing process, so the result will be a bit different.  With that caveat in mind, on with the show!

When we left off, I had chosen this set of images, bracketed 3 EVs apart:


HDR Efex Pro has a large number of parameters you can change.  In order to make the parameters less daunting, there are a number of presets available, the idea being that you choose a preset that looks promising and start working from that point.  Once the bracketed images were loaded into HDR Efex Pro, I quickly scanned the Presets column for something close to what I was looking for.  I chose the Realistic (Strong) preset, as it really brings out the textures in the image.

01 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 7.27.03 AM

Note that clicking on these images will show you the full-sized image.

There is a lot going on in this image that distracts from the two subjects I wanted to emphasize: the large foreground rocks and the waterfalls.  Relative brightness is one way you can change the relationship between objects in a scene, so I wanted to make the main subjects brighter than the surroundings.  The first step was to darken the image globally using the Exposure slider.

02 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 7.27.46 AM

Now that all elements of the image were subdued, I could start bringing out the subjects from the busy scene.  All of Nik Software's products use what they call Control Points.  A Control Point (CP) can be placed on an image and it will intelligently allow you to alter the image around that point.  It is smart enough to know about object boundaries and blend the effect so as to not look contrived.  The first subject I wanted to liven was the large waterfall.  I placed a control point on the fall and turned the exposure up a bit.

03 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 7.28.31 AM

Once the CP is placed, it has sliders that allow you to change parameters for things like Exposure, Contrast and Saturation.  The CP examines the image and applies these changes in an intelligent way  You can see this by examining the mask for the CP.  The mask checkbox (circled in red below) shows the CP's sphere of influence by making the image dark where there is no effect and light where the CP is effecting the image.

04 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 7.28.42 AM

Whatever changes were made to the CP, they were made only to the light areas.  How easy was that!  Creating a mask in Photoshop would have been much more tedious.

The next step was to continue tweaking the brightness in both waterfalls.  I added more control points along both falls and adjusted the brightness.

05 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 7.38.55 AM

The next step was to work on the foreground rocks.  Lightening them up was a snap with a single control point.  Notice that one of the other parameters you can adjust is Structure.  This parameter increases local contrast to yield more detail and sharpness.

06 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 7.40.29 AM

Just for fun, lets look at the CP masks:

07 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 7.41.02 AM

So far, so good, but it still needed some work.  As-is, the edits to the subjects looked a bit obvious and ham-handed.  I wanted to add some interest to the background so I globally boosted the Structure and Saturation.  This brought out the color of the fallen leaves a bit.

08 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 7.41.55 AM

It was looking pretty good now, but the area between the two waterfalls was a bit distracting.  I then added a CP on this area to darken it up a bit.

09 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 11.46.49 AM

Still looking for a moody feel and needing more focus on the subjects, I added a vignette.  This effect will darken the edges, calling attention to the center of the photograph.

10 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 11.48.55 AM

Exactly the look I was shooting for!  Now it was time for tweaking to clean things up. As you can see below, I adjusted the global Stauration, Structure and Warmth.  Also, I added a few more CPs to do some minor adjusting where there were some distracting bright points.

11 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 11.56.18 AM

I'm pretty happy with the result now.  The main subjects of the image, the waterfall and the foreground rock, are now obvious, but there is still plenty for the eye to explore.

As I stated before, the steps above are a recreation of the original edits.  Looking at them side by side, original on the left, and the recreated version on the right, I think I might like the recreated version more.  Which one do you like better?

Screen Shot 2012-01-08 at 8.06.35 PM

Anatomy of an Image: Scotts Run WaterFall (Part 1) by Paul Waldo

A serene waterfall surrounded by rocks and fallen leaves.  How was this image created?  This post gives a step-by-step walkthrough from image capture to final edits.

This weekend, my son was interested in going for a hike and seeing a waterfall. I'm always up for photographing waterfalls, so we headed to one of my favorite spots at Scott's Run Park. This is an amazing place, probably only 10 miles outside Washington DC, but you would never know that it is so close to the hustle and bustle of a huge city. Unbeknownst to me, the day we went (January 1) was a national push to get people out to their state parks. On the day I thought everyone would be home nursing hangovers, the parking lot was mobbed with hikers! It seemed that getting a shot of the falls without people in it was going to be impossible. Luck favors the prepared though, so we set off to the falls with gear in hand.

My son, who is eight, hiked like a trooper, scrambling over rocks larger than he and climbing up some pretty steep hills. We finally got to the base of the falls and I was disappointed to see that there were lots of people around. Drat! Oh well, we were here to see waterfalls and I figured I would at least scout the location using my Sigma 8-16 mm ultra-wide-angle lens. We could always come back later on a less busy day.

Whenever my son sees me get out the tripod, he rolls his eyes and I can almost hear him groan “Not again…” Eight year olds are not known for sitting still and especially hate adults obsessing over minute changes of a tripod angle. Thank goodness cell phone reception was good, so I gave him my iPhone to use while I was setting up the shots. Watching train videos is his favorite pastime, and that would keep him from wandering around and landing in the drink!



When it comes to waterfalls, I love the blurred dreamy effect of a slow shutter speed shot. Therefore my primary goal for these shots was to use a slow shutter speed. I find that for this particular waterfall, 1/2 second is the bare minimum to get this effect. A tripod is necessary for a shot this slow plus it helps with maintaining the exact placement of the bracketed shots for HDR.

As soon as I got the camera and tripod set up and switched Live View on, I could see that the spot I had chosen was going to be fantastic. The 8-16 mm Sigma has some pretty heavy vignetting, but it worked to my advantage here.

The foreground rock and the waterfall in the background were the lightest objects in the scene, emphasizing the relationship between the two. “This could be a very cool image!” I thought to myself. If only there were no people…

With all the tripod adjusting and LCD ogling, I hadn’t realized that some dark clouds had rolled in and it was starting to sprinkle lightly. Apparently all the other folks, out for a more leisurely hike, decided to pack it in and go home. Never being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I started shooting in earnest. I little light rain was not going to kill what looked to be some really nice shooting! Yes, I had to wipe off the camera every once in a while, but it had the advantage of lowering the light to get a good slow shutter speed. This lets the running water turn into the ethereal flow that looks so good!

I adjusted my position a bit and took a few more shots. Over the roar of the flowing water, I heard “Dad, its time to go!” The rain was getting a bit stronger now, so I conceded and started to pack up. While I knew I could have stayed for another hour at least, I was happy with the fact that I got some good shots.


Once I got home and started looking at the images in Lightroom, I realized that this was the  sequence that looked most promising.

Each one of the shots allowed me to capture detail in a specific area of the scene: mid tones, highlights and shadows.  The next step was to use HDR software to combine these three images into one that holds detail in all three areas.

In Part 2 of Anatomy of an Image: Scotts Run WaterFall, I will be showing, in a slider-by-slider description, how I turned the raw images above into a single image that gently guides the viewer through the scene and captures the feeling I had at these fantastic waterfalls.

IR Waterfall by Paul Waldo

110-1031_IMG, originally uploaded by GeekNeck.

This image has been quite popular on Flickr, so I thought this might be a good one to christen the blog. It was taken at Scott's Run Park in McLean, Virginia. I took it quite a while ago, back when my Canon G1 was new.

It had been raining quite a bit the week before, and I wanted to get a really delicate shot of the water. I didn't have enough ND filter to really slow it down, and I was experimenting with Infrared, so I figured I could kill two birds with one stone.