Mountain streams somehow always manage to cast a magical spell on me. They enchant me and I get pulled towards them. Before I know it, my camera is ready to capture their dancing flow and the finesse by which the water hops on the small rocks. I had one such moment some days back when I was driving through some hills in Kumaon region.
I was passing through Padampuri, a small hamlet in Kumaon. While crossing a small bridge, corner of my eyes caught sight of a mountain stream flowing down there. The magic spell was cast! I parked my car further ahead on the roadside and took out my tripod and camera bag. Armed with my photography equipment, I started my short walk to the creek. The weather was fine and there was occasional drizzle. This is one reason why I always advocate carrying a waterproof camera bag. In fact, my tripod too was in a waterproof bag with a purse-string opening. Vanguard had included the bag with the tripod when I had purchased it. On reaching the lowest part of the road, I could see a small trail which was leading right upto the bank of the stream.
There were signs of a recent land-slide too, not far from this trail. People chop down the trees and leave the hills bare. In the absence of trees, rains can wreck havoc on these hills. Every now and then I keep hearing news of landslides and loss of lives. The trail however appeared to be made up of good solid rocks with some deodars on a side. Though close to the landslide, I felt that it was still a safe distance away. A quick walk down the trail brought me right upto the side of the stream. The stream was negotiating a soft turn at this point.
The drizzle had ceased but the air still felt moist. Grass was growing from whatever small breaks it could find between the rocks. The rainy season was yet to start. There was very little water in the stream. The water was clear and I could see the pebbles in the river-bed. The deepest part of the stream would not have been deeper than a foot. The water was cold to touch. From the place where I was standing, I could see the road above. The bridge that I had crossed while driving, was also visible a little further up. There were few shops on the roadside before the bridge which had their backs to me, while I stood there. It was a quiet little place. A small temple, across the stream, had a raised area where people could relax by the side of the stream. This region is sometimes fondly referred to as ‘Deva Bhumi’ by the locals or the land of Gods. I was beginning to understand why. The hills with their abundant natural beauty were truly the adobe of Gods and people over the ages had built up many temples. Every little town has its own share of ancient temples.
(The mountain stream – Without any motion blur)
Setting up my tripod was an easy task. One of the first things that I notice when people setup their tripods, is that a lot of them struggle to set it up. This gives me an indication of how well they know their equipment. Setting up the tripod should not require any thought. It should happen as a reflex. I was setting up my tripod on slippery rocks and so I opted for the rubber feet. Spikes do not give very good stability on such surfaces. I remembered about one of my friends who uses polythene packets to cover up the tripod feet. This is a very good habit especially while using it on sandy surfaces, like he does. A practical solution to keeping the tripod clean! I made a mental note of adding that to my tripod bag when I get back home. I had mounted a ball-head on the tripod. The quick release plate was attached to my camera. This is yet another thing that bothers me. Most quick release plates end up scratching the camera body around the tripod socket. Why can’t they provide simple rubber gaskets to be placed between the quick-release plate and the camera? I sometimes use a 1mm thin strip of closed-cell foam between the two. This prevents scratches and provides a far better grip and damping than directly attaching the camera to the plate.
The stream was gurgling down on the pebbles and rock, calling out to me to photograph it. I set up my camera with a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 G lens mounted on it. Next I took out my filters. I did not have any dark ND filters and so I had to manage the motion blurs using the 2-stop ND filter and polarizer that I had. Inspite of the cloudy weather, there was excessive amount of light. After reducing the ISO to 50 and setting up the aperture at f/11, I still could not achieve a slow enough speed to get the required amount of motion blur. The choice was to further close the aperture risking fall in image quality due to diffraction effects or club the filters together risking softening of the photograph. I reduced the aperture to the minimum. Now at f/22, I was able to gain two more stops of increase in the shutter opening time, enough for a good motion blur. I made another mental note of ordering a dark ND filter when I got back home. Later, I also clicked some photographs with the polarizer on. Apart from reducing the light a little, the polarizer gave me control over the shine on the water surface.
(Nikon Df with Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 G lens set at f/16, 0.6 sec at ISO 50)
Satisfied with my efforts, I unmounted the camera from the tripod and took a few shots of the surroundings. Further down the stream, the tall trees on both the sides gave a beautiful view. The stream was a small part of the frame and so the motion appeared to be relatively slow in the overall frame. In the absence of a dark ND filter, I did not attempt any motion blurs in these photographs. After a few shots, I mounted a Zeiss 25mm lens. Nothing works better than a wide angle lens in putting the viewer in the scene. I captured some beautiful shots. Using wideangles is actually more difficult than using normal or tele lenses. The initial reaction of most photographers is to use the wide-angle lens to get everything into the frame but in my opinion the best way to use the wide-angle lens is to put the viewer in the scene itself.
(Nikon Df with Nikkor 50mm lens at f/16, 1.3 sec at ISO 50. Notice that the motion blur is almost absent due to the distance from the lens.)
After the landscapes, I focused my attention on a broken down bridge behind me and the rocks under my feet. A few more interesting photographs to be made. It was starting to drizzle again. Though my camera bag and tripod bag were waterproof, I chickened out. Going back to the car was going to take a few minutes and I was in no mood to get drenched. There was a long drive ahead of me and so with a heavy heart, I packed my gear. Those photographs will now be captured some other day. Now I am planning another trip to that place with my new ND filter (9 stops of reduction) and a will to capture photographs of those beautiful round pebbles and the abandoned bridge.