This is my last post about our Callaway Gardens vacation in Georgia this month. We had a great time photographing hummingbirds, songbirds, warblers, butterflies, and turtles at the beautiful gardens in Pine Mountain (about a hour southwest of Atlanta). But we stumbled upon my favorite photo from the whole trip rather unexpectedly. It was mid-day, and I had my wide-angle lens on the camera while we hiked the various trails in the gardens. Yes, it was hot, but it was significantly cooler than Florida, and we were having a good time. I’d stopped at a small waterfall on the Wildflower trail and tried to do some longer exposures, but the water was such a tiny trickle that my efforts were rather pitiful. Then as we hiked up near the chapel, we came across this waterfall. The top of it was at ground level, and you had to duck down under some trees and sit on rocks in order to view it. I said to Rich, “we have to go back for my tripod!”
The picture above was taken with my wide-angle lens zoomed all the way out. I used a warming filter to give the mid-day light a bit of a glow, a circular polarizing filter to remove reflections (more on that in a minute), and a split neutral density filter to manage the bright highlights at the top of the picture. I experimented with exposure times and found that I liked the smoothness of the water with a 4-second shutter speed. I tried a 30-second exposure just for grins, but that ended up blowing the highlights. I’d read that it is good to cover the viewfinder when you are doing long exposures, or too much light will creep in through the viewfinder and over-exposure the image. I found this out empirically (accidentally!) when I sometimes left my eye up to the viewfinder and sometimes did not. So I used the little viewfinder cover that comes attached to the camera strap and that solved my exposure issues. Pretty nifty!
Back to the circular polarizer – see the image below, taken at the same settings as the one above. The only difference is that I removed the circular polarizer filter. See how the image below has lots of bright highlights on the rocks. Those are the reflections of the water. When you attach the circular polarizer, it’s like putting a pair of sunglasses on the camera. But since it’s circular, you have to rotate it to achieve the maximum level of polarization. An easy way to do this is to point it at the sky and rotate it until the sky is the deepest blue. In the waterfall picture, removing the reflections better shows the green of the algae on the rocks. It also shows more contrast in the darker tones, like the detail in the rocks to the right of the falls.
Here’s a picture of the same falls, but taken at a shutter speed of 1/160 of a second. See how it freezes the water instead of showing a nice pretty flow. I like the longer exposures better, and I had a great time experimenting. After reading all kinds of articles in Nature Photographer and other magazines, it was fun to apply my knowledge! :)
Hehehe, and here’s a picture that Rich took with his iPhone. He was tickled to capture the look on my face as I realized that I’d finally gotten my long-wanted waterfall pictures… :)
Want to learn more about nature photography at Callaway Gardens?
Check out my Callaway Gardens page with more information about the location, map, website, photography tips, etc. It is archived by date so you can see my images from previous visits. Maybe you'll be inspired for your own trip!
Planning a trip to Florida? Don't miss my Central Florida Bird Photography Locations reference guide!