Waterfalls and Parachutes

Bonus image: Focal length 18mm, Apeture F7.1, Shutter 1/200s
I went up to Ohio a few weekends ago for my class reunion, and figured while I was up there I would do a photoshoot at a local little waterfall called Blue Hen Falls.  The original concept for this shoot I had in my head was based on forest/water nymph; however, I ended up tweaking my vision slightly based on some photos of Charlize Therontaken by Annie Leibovitz in 2011 for Vogue as well as some photos on Pinterest.   For this shoot, I knew I needed a flowy super long dress, and what fit the bill was a white parachute dress, which I found at Enception Dress Rentals.  The dress is made out of a parachute that is about 25 feet in diameter, which is a lot of fabric, and had a shipping weight was 8 lbs.  Now for the shoot I did bustle the front part of the dress.  I bustled it because the path leading down to the waterfall is rocky and steep, so I wanted my model to be able to walk safely down to waterfall and maneuver easily on the rocks.  My model for this shoot was Anna who is one of my longtime friends that I don’t get to see that often.  I was nice working with a friend who has modeled before and did not need a lot of direction.  She worked the dress beautifully, and looked at the mood board I sent her thus understood what I was trying to achieve.

As for equipment,  I used a Canon 70D, an 18-200mm lens, one 430 EX-IIIRT speed light, one 600 EX-RT speed light, radio trigger, lightstand,  painter’s pole with baby pin adaptor,  a portable changing room, and a towel.  (I also had a permit for the location.) My husband came with me on this shoot to act as my assistant.  His job was to hold the painter’s pole with a speedlight attached, because we were not going to lug a C-stand with sandbags up and down the hill to the waterfall.  In addition, a voice-activated light stand is quicker to move and adjust, especially when you are in a time crunch, like we were.  We only had two hours to do the shoot and clear the location, before a group of ultra-marathoners was to come through the area.  When the marathoners came through they were going to close the path to the waterfall and the roads around the area, so we needed to be out of the area before then.  Even though we had a limited amount of time, I still got the shots I was looking for.

I took around 264 shots, edited 184, and posted 126 fully edited photos.  For all the photos, I was at an ISO of 100 using an aperture of between F4 and F8 with the photos evenly distributed between F4 to F7.1. I only took one photo at F8.  I used a focal length between 18mm and 110mm with 52 percent of the photos taken at 18mm.  The shutter speeds varied widely from 1/25s to 1/800s with the about 26 percent of the photos taken at 1/125s.  I also took about 45 percent of my photo at slow shutter speeds between 1/40s to 1/60s without a tripod.  Now I can say from reviewing the raw images, I should have bumped the ISO up to 200 or 400. This would have allowed me to reduce the flash power in some cases, and I would not have had to shoot at such low shutter speeds.  From reviewing the raw images, I can tell my hands are not as steady as they once were at the lower speeds.

For this shoot, we shot in three locations at the waterfall. The first location was at the top of the waterfall were we did our best to keep the dress dry.  I wanted to keep the dress dry at the beginning of the shoot because it would move and fluff nicely.  I knew as soon as the dress got wet it would gain a ton of weight limiting the model’s movement, and the dress could possibly turn see-through.  The second location was at the base of the falls, which included having the falls behind the model, the model standing in the water, and the model standing close to but not exactly under the waterfalls.  I took the final shots, after the dress was good and wet, downstream from the waterfall. There was a nice low flat rock creek bed that had a nice feel to it that was perfect for ending the session.  I’m going to discuss a few photos from each of the three areas. (You can see all the photos here.)

The first photo was taken at the top of the falls.  I was positioned on a main path that is slightly higher than the creek bed that makes the falls.  My husband was actually below me on another ledge that came out and slightly in front of the falls (the area is curved) and had the light positioned to the front and right of the model.  For this shot, I actually tried to blend flash into the natural light coming in between the trees.  I like the photo because it looks like the dress is pooling and getting ready to cascade down the edge to the pool below just like the water is doing.  This shot was good out of camera, but I did edit by cropping slightly, adjusting the color and pulling it into Photoshop to make the whites pop.  I applied a technique called fairytale glow, which if done incorrectly is obvious and make things look blown out, but if down correctly just adds the slightest bit of highlight to make the photo pop.  I also tried to keep the background subdued so the model and the dress would stand out. While I took several at the top of the falls, most of my favorites were taken at the base of the falls, so we’ll discuss those next.

In this second image, I was still above the base of the falls while my model and husband were down at the base of the falls.  As you can tell the dress, looks wet and does not have that light fluffy look anymore.  I had my model stand on the large rock located in the shallow pool of water at the base of the falls. The light was above and to the left of the model to match the incoming sunlight.  Out of camera, the whole background was very dark, so when I edited the photo I brought up the shadows so you could see some of the texture in the rock face.  I also slightly enhanced the lighting on the model to reduce shadows on her face.  I also tried to brighten up the waterfall in the background.  I think this is a very powerful shot, while remaining soft and feminine.

Image #1: Focal Length 18mm, Apeture F6.3, Shutter 1/60s
Image #2: Focal Length 40mm, Apeture F5, Shutter 1/60s
For the next two photos, I was shooting directly down from the top of the falls, as you can see by the image to the left. I used two lights for these photos, one was behind the model to provide a bit of rim lighting and the main light was above to the front and left of her.  Now both images did initially have some light graduation issues with the light on the left side of the image not balancing well with the light on the right side of the image.   To account for this, I added a graduated filter in Lightroom to brighten the left side of the image and even the image out.  I then added a few local adjustments to the models face to reduce shadows and make sure your eye was drawn to her face.   As you can see in this third image the dress is getting fairly wet and in some instances translucent where it is touching the water.   In the fourth image the dress is dress is holding that shape because the model trapped air under the dress to make it poof out. I brightened the dress in the fourth image some by using the same fairy glow technique, I discussed in the very first image.  I like both these images, the third image is shows a strong powerful woman, while the fourth image is a bit softer.

Image #3: Focal Length 40mm, Apeture F5, Shutter 1/120s
Image #4: Focal Length 35mm, Apeture F5, Shutter 1/125s

Image #5: Focal Length 18mm, Apeture F7.1, Shutter 1/40s
This fifth photo is the one inspired by the Charlize Theron photo.  Unfortunately, my waterfall was not designed for the model to easily or comfortably lie against the rocks.  I still managed to get a strong image.  A light was placed to light up the falls, while my husband held the main light above the model to the left.  I tried to align the light with what was already coming through the trees.  The image out of camera was unbalanced and dark on the in the upper area and the left side.  Also the shadows were dark, so you could not make out the texture of the shale. To compensated for that I added two gradient filters to lighten up the left side of the image and then balance out the top of the falls.  The gradient filters brightened the water and brought out some of the shadows, so that you could start to see some texture.  To finalize the image I did add some vignetting to ensure the eye was drawn to the center to the model.  I like this picture, but I’m not in love with it, because I know I could have shot it better.  I needed to be standing in the water and more the right of the model to really capture the mood I was going for.  Next time I bring waders to the shoot.

The final image was shot in the creek bed at the base of the falls.  I like this image because the dress is trailing behind her and how it looks like she is walking into the light.  I feel the image is portrays a level of serenity and peace that can be found in the forest.  This last image is all natural light.  The image out of camera was dark, especially in the tree and rock area behind the model.  Thus, I first adjusted the exposure and brought up the shadows some while bring the highlights down on the model.  I did crop the original image then added some vignetting to really make it appear she was standing in a pool of light.  Honestly, this is one of my favorite images from the entire shoot.

Image #6: Focal Length 18mm, Apeture F4.5, Shutter 1/100s

Now if you are wondering what some of the set up look like, I actually have some behind the scenes photos.   My mom, who watched the whole shoot, took these photos with her phone.   Since I am down in the Virginia area and she is up in Ohio, she does not get to see me work a photo shoot.  I also want to thank her for taking the dress and running it through a spin cycle on the washer and hanging it out to dry after this shoot. The dress was sopping wet after the shoot and we could not wring all of the water out of it by hand.

At the base of the falls
As top of falls shooting down (image 3 & 4)

Overall, I’m happy with how the shoot turned out but I would do a few things differently.  First off, I would raise my ISO so I wasn’t shooting at such a slow shutter speed.  Second, I would bring a battery pack for the flashes, because near the end of the shoot they were starting to die.  Third, I would bring waders, or just face the situation and get into the water beyond my ankles.  Finally, while I had the dress bustled in the front for safety; I think I would like to have un-bustled the dress as soon as we got to the base of the waterfall.  You can see all the photos from the shoot here


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