Mountain Stream & Long Exposures

In the midst of the spell of cold weather, there was a day with clear sky and good sunshine. What more could a photographer in me ask for? I packed my camera and tripod and visited a nearby mountain stream. My purpose was clear. I wanted to capture some motion blurs.

With a clear purpose in my mind, I knew the things that I was going to carry along. My camera bag apart from my camera had a wide-angle lens, a dark ND filter, cable release, the usual cleaning stuff, and a polarizer just in case. I also carried along a tripod with a ball head. (More about what I carry in my camera bag – Inside my camera bag)

I had reached the stream in the latter part of the afternoon. The sun was already trying to hide behind a hill and the stream was well lit by indirect and diffused light. This took care of my biggest worries when photographing such subjects with lots and lots of surfaces where disturbing shadows might form. The bad part of the scene? It was not a stream that is not visited by people. Sadly, these visitors had left behind packets and bottles which were an eyesore. I had three options. 1. Frame the composition in such a way that everything gets hidden. 2. Photograph as it is and then work on my computer to remove everything. 3. Remove the garbage itself.

You might have guessed it if you know me. I took the third option. Carefully, I gathered all the tell-tale signs of these so-called ‘tourists’ and cleared my scene. There were empty packets of chips, a couple of beer bottles, three water bottles and a whole lot of plastic bags. I also had to wet my feet in ice-cold water (in winters!) to clear out these things. After scavenging, I had a pristine scene of a mountain stream in front of me.


Stream on rocks

(Mountain stream over the rocks)

This first photograph, the one above, was of the cascading stream with a view of the distant hills and also a part of the sky. First I composed the photograph without any filter and focused the scene. I was going to use a very deep depth of field or a small aperture. My focusing was done at about 1/3 of the distance from my location to the area that I wanted in sharp focus (Staying Focused). Next, I locked the tripod ball head. Minimizing the camera movement is very important to get stationary subjects well focused. Apart from sturdily mounting the camera on a tripod, I also attached a cable release to the camera. Now, with everything locked into place, a really dark ND filter was then tightened on to the lens. At f/11 aperture, 100 ISO, an exposure lasting for 11 seconds was good enough for this photograph. A longer exposure would have further softened the flowing water but I did not want to risk my luck with the foliage in the background. In such long exposures, the foliage frequently gets blurred due to movement with even gentle breezes.


My feet were already wet from clearing out the garbage, so I ventured into the stream itself and for the next photograph, placed my tripod on a rock in the center.

Cascade on rocks

(Photographed while standing in the stream)

Who says that photography is easy? I was once again in the chilling water trying to protect my expensive photography equipment from getting wet. The thought of my camera along with the lens toppling into the stream did cross my mind and reminded me to be extra careful.

With the ND filter off, the focusing was fine-tuned and then with the ND filter back in place, the camera was all set. The above photograph was captured at f/16, 100 ISO with an exposure of 45.2 sec. I had counted 45 seconds in mind and I am proud to say that the count was quite close to the time as recorded in the exif information of the photograph. Manual mode was used and the shutter speed was set to ‘T’. This is a variation of the Bulb mode, where the first press of the shutter release button opens the shutter and the second press closes it.


With almost similar settings, I captured a few more photographs of the mountain stream. Sometimes while standing in the stream and sometimes from one side of it.

Motion blur of mountain stream

(Photographed while standing on a rock. f/16, ISO 100 and shutter speed of 30 secs)

For all the photographs, I made it a point to preview the exposure using histograms (Understanding Histograms). Dark filters like ND can throw off the light meter readings significantly. In film days, I banked on external light meters which measured the incident light in such situations and then calculated the exposure using filter factors and camera settings. Now with histograms, things are much easier and one less instrument to carry in my bag!

For the above photograph, the camera set the shutter-speed to 30 secs in aperture priority mode. The 30 secs kept blinking on the screen indicating that the camera was unable to set a longer shutter speed though the light meter in the camera calculated that a longer exposure was required. Based on my experience, I felt that 30 second exposure was fine for a slightly low key photograph and it seems that the image that I captured was exactly as I had visualized.


Another parting shot of the mountain stream and then I planned to pack my things.

Mountain Stream

(f/11 at 100 ISO with exposure lasting 13 seconds)


All the images captured were in raw format. Post-processing was done using Affinity Photo on a Windows machine. One of the problems with long exposure is long exposure noise. The sensor is an electronic device that heats up during long exposures and causes this noise. Though the camera also has a built-in long exposure noise reduction algorithm that directly modifies the raw file (Raw files – what affects them), the noise reduction is not always correct. Some of my photographs had a color cast in some corners and edges, which was easily removed during post-processing.


Now, I am looking forward to the winters to end, so that I can revisit the stream and capture its beauty with some grass that usually grows between the rocks.

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