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Cascades of Time - part 1 of 1 2

by Paul Gallagher Published 01/08/2008


One of the attractions with being a landscape photographer is the obvious or unconscious desire to be near water. I am sure that many of our readers will be patently aware if they have read my previous articles that I have an overwhelming desire to be near, and photograph the coast, certainly when it comes to Scotland. Maybe this excitement was hatched as a young boy when my parents often took me to Scotland and we regularly visited areas of the coast one of which I have only just returned from, North Ledaig which is just north of Oban on the western Argyll coast.

If I am not at the coast I often find myself venturing inland towards lakes, lochs and even canals but the natural environment of the river is something which normally spoils a landscape photographer with a vast wealth of options in which to pursue their craft. On occasion when visiting river systems we can indulge ourselves with the treat of the waterfall. Even the very name 'waterfall' conjures up in one's mind something natural and beautiful.

If we look at other nationalities even their own spelling of this natural phenomenon seems to suggest beauty such as the Italian 'cascata' and the fairytale Norwegian 'foss'. So what is it that attracts so many folk to seek out such a feature of the landscape, certainly the photographers amongst us? I personally would say it would be the stark transition from calm, almost still waters, to white cascades or the spray that entices you closer. Other experiences that fascinate me are the need to explore, to go beneath, to look from above, but most of all it is the sound.


The very sound of a waterfall is something that is captivating and after only a short time I feel I almost become at one with it. It is never offensive or disturbing, but often transfixing and hypnotic. I for one have often fallen asleep when resting near a waterfall almost without noticing the sound sooth away into my distant hearing as I drift off into a snooze surrounded by what is essentially a life blood. If you ever spend time next to a waterfall, on your departure you become suddenly aware of the quiet that surrounds you yet the experience of being there is often all-encompassing. I cannot think of another constant sound with such power that has the same effect. (Which is probably why the sound of water is used to mask tinitus - Ed.)

When we make photographs of waterfalls we must first consider that what we see and experience is often quite difficult to capture. When we look at a waterfall our eyes are in a continuous state of movement and in doing so they capture tiny moments in time, convey this information to our brains, and our brains process this and deliver to us an understanding of what we are looking at - moving water. The camera does not see in this way at all. When we place our camera in front of a waterfall we must weigh up a number of considerations.

Do we want to freeze the motion of the water? Do we want to convey movement with some motion blur, or do we want to make a representation of the waterfall as a living thing with all movement, no matter how small, showing in the final image. We do this by using a combination of aperture setting and shutter speeds. There are an infinite combination of these at our disposal in many photographic situations all producing differing effects but if we consider these carefully it will have a dramatic difference on the image we are creating. In landscape situations I tend to opt for a very large depth of field bringing all parts of the image, from foreground to distant, into sharp focus. For this reason alone, I generally use f22 or f32 and with longer lenses f64. (Bear in mind I am using a 5x4 camera where the standard lens has a focal length of 150mm!) The effect of using apertures of this size is that the resulting shutter speed is lengthened.

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1st Published 01/08/2008
last update 18/07/2022 16:31:42

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Updated 18/07/2022 16:31:42 Last Modified: Monday, 18 July 2022