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Wailua Falls, Kauai

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 11 August 2010 in Landscape & Rural.


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If you read the narrative from my previous post you may recall that I discussed using our imagination even at the iconic locations. In Kauai, it doesn't get much more iconic than the lookout area for Wailua Falls. If you are old enough, you may be experiencing a deja' vu moment right about now. If you remember the popular American television series Fantasy Island (starring Ricardo Montalban as Mr. Roarke and Herve' Villechaize as Tatto - Boss, ze plane, ze plane) then you will no doubt recognize these falls as part of the opening sequence of island (Kauai) scenes.

Having personally photographed these falls many times over the past 10 years, I challenged myself (and my students) to try for differing compositions. My group was the only ones at the lookout area (arriving shortly after sunrise) and we were treated to rising mist as the sun began to warm the water. I have written many times in the past that perhaps my most successful waterfall images include only a portion of the actual falls (the viewer's imagination fills in the rest).

So how do I (or anyone else in the workshop) make a unique image of this iconic location? Personally I start by first observing. I challenge all of you to do the same. Don't immediately arrive upon a scene and start photographing without really having a plan. I start by making a mental checklist (which I verbally recited to the group) of what is important about the scene I am viewing. The falls were obvious, but what about the mist? What about the lush foliage? What about the interesting mountain behind this scene (not included in this frame)? What about the interesting cloud floating over the top of the mountain? (also not included in this frame)? Where is the light coming from? (backlit). Do I need a GND filter to control contrast (in this frame I did not). What mood will the light evoke? Are there any potential problems that could work against us in creating this image? (flare, wind, mist blowing on our lenses, hot spots that will draw the eye out of the scene)? How can I best control those problems? What lens will work best for the scene? (I used a 24-70 mm). Should I use a polarizer, and if I do, have I remembered to turn it? Are my filters clean? Does this scene work better as a horizontal or vertical (I challenge you to shoot both), how should I frame this scene? What do I want the viewers to see? What aperture is required to produce my desired depth-of-field? Will my shutter speed be an issue? Do I include a foreground? Can I photograph this scene from a different vantage point (unfortunately we could not though there is a steep trail to the bottom of the falls - not one I would use in a workshop).

All of these questions need to be addressed prior to ever putting a camera to our eye. Too often we rush up to a scene, put the camera to our eye, and begin blasting away with no real conscious thought. We are simply in a reactive mode. This serves me well when photographing sports, but with landscape, even though the moments are fleeting (this mist could have evaporated within seconds) we need to be contemplative (have a plan) before we begin to react.

So did I succeed in using my imagination to create a different look of these iconic falls? I'll let you the viewer be the judge.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 1/8 second F/16.0 ISO 200 48 mm

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