On the trail of Cascades & Waterfalls

With the onset of monsoons, the nature starts to reinvent itself. The trees turn green. New leaves every where. Mountain streams start filling up and many small cascades and waterfalls appear. Yesterday the incessant rain took a short break. I immediately hit the road with my camera, tripod and a few snacks to munch on.


The Cascading Mountain Stream

My first stop was a flowing stream, hidden between the trees. The only indication of there being a river was an old bridge covered with moss. The stream was easily visible from the bridge. After carefully parking my car on one side of the road, a little distance away from the bridge, I unloaded my photography stuff. It was quite cloudy and had finished raining just a while back. The trees were still wet and occasionally a drop or two of water fell down from them, though not as frequently as I the distant screeching of what sounded like a magpie.

The road bridge was a narrow one and only one vehicle could pass on it at a time. The crumbling railings appeared nice, covered with fresh green moss. They would have been an interesting subject but then at that time, my interest was capturing the motion blur of the river.

Bridge on the stream

(Bridge on the stream – captured with iphone SE, cropped and resized on Affinity Photo)

The railing had a ledge that I used for placing two legs of my tripod. The third one was on the road. On such locations, I find the ability to extend the tripod legs as required, invariably useful. By the time I set up the tripod, a couple of water drops fell on me. Gusts of wind dislodged these droplets from the leaves. These droplets falling on me was fine but what if they fell on my camera and lens? None of them are weather sealed, let alone water proof. I didn’t have an umbrella either. This reminds me, I have to keep an umbrella with me in my car. I’ll add it to my ‘to do’ list. My camera did have its strap attached. I just kept it on top of the camera body and also covered the lens with my folded handkerchief (Yes, I am one of those who still carry it). These measures are not as effective as a rain cover but they were sufficient to provide any protection from the few water droplets that kept falling from time to time.

Camera covered with strap

(Camera covered with strap – a makeshift arrangement to provide some basic protection – photographed with mobile phone, which did not focus properly on the camera.)

When I started to capture the photograph, drizzle started. I had two options – to quickly pack everything and leave or complete one photograph and then rush back. Photography won over the concern for equipment. I stayed put and captured a couple of photographs. Thankfully, the drizzle ended quickly. No harm done!

Mountain stream hidden in by foliage

(Mountain stream that was hidden in by foliage. Captured on Nikon Df with 50mm lens, ISO 50, f/16, 2.5 sec exposure)

I mounted my wideangle lens and composed the next frame. To achieve the desired motion blur, I planned on a relatively longer exposure time. So, after composing the frame, I shifted to Manual Mode from Aperture Priority. Keeping the aperture at f/16, increased the ISO to 100 (native value for my camera). Changed the shutter speed to ‘T’. This is a mode similar to ‘B’ or Bulb but with the functionality to open the shutter with the first press and then close the shutter with the second press. With the settings in place, I mounted a 10 stop ND filter (Hoya PRO ND 1000 filter). Captured one more shot.

(The cascading mountain stream appears distant but more beautiful with the 25mm wide angle lens. The exposure time was about 3 minutes at f/16 and 100 ISO.)

When I finished the capture, a young chap leisurely came walking from the other side of the bridge. He had a packet with some kind of nuts which he was munching on. He was curious to see what I had captured. When I told him the cascading stream, he seemed disinterested. For locals these streams with their cascades and waterfalls are a part and parcel of their life. Had I spent my whole life in the hills, I am sure, for me the mountain streams would still have been something interesting to look at.

Time to pack the equipment and move on. The magpie screeched again. This seems like a good spot for bird photography. I’ll tell my birding buddies.


The Waterfall

A little further up on the road was a small waterfall. It was just next to the hill road. Time to capture some more photographs!

The waterfall was made up from the rainwater that had found itself a way. The water fell on the roadside from a little height and then flowed on the road itself, to further fall down on the other side of the road. I set up my tripod. The feet were in the flowing water. The water was not very deep. It barely covered the feet of the tripod.

Photographing waterfalls

(The tripod set up in the flowing water, with the camera in vertical orientation. Photographed on mobile phone while waiting for the exposure to complete.)

After composing the frame, I mounted the 10-stop ND filter. Clicked the shutter release button. while in ‘T’ (on the shutter speed dial), once to start the image capture process. After two minutes, pressed the shutter release button again to end the exposure. I had to wait for a long time to preview the captured image. The reason was that I had kept the long exposure noise reduction on (Raw files – what affects them). This noise reduction process takes its own sweet time. After almost a minute, I was able to preview the image.

The problem at this location was that the water first fell on the rock almost at the level from where I wanted to capture the photograph. This led to lots of drops flying across, some of which also landed on the front of the ND filter. This had led to blurring of the first image.

After cleaning up the front surface of the filter, I tried the same exposure again. While I was waiting for the two minutes to pass, a dark butterfly flew past me and settled on the ground near me.  The waterfall was not going to go anywhere soon but the butterfly would fly away. However ending the present exposure will also take time (thanks to the noise reduction) and then I’ll have to change the lens to a macro one. The dilemma!

The shutter release gets disabled when the noise reduction works. (How nice it was with the film cameras. Regardless of the length of exposure, the next frame was always there to be clicked immediately, provided there was space on the film roll)

I let the exposure continue and used by mobile phone to capture the butterfly. After a couple of failed attempts, I was able to quietly approach it and capture an image, good enough for a mobile phone camera. The two minutes had also ended since the time I started capturing the image of the waterfall. Stopped the exposure and after the usual noise reduction process, I was able to preview it. Another photograph spoilt due to water droplets on the filter!

Black butterfly

(A black butterfly captured on iphone SE, cropped and resized on computer)

Cleaned the camera filter again and once again started the exposure. During all the exposures, I had to remain close to the camera. Once in a while a vehicle would pass and splash the water all around. I used by body as a shield to prevent the splash from falling on the camera. My jeans got a little wet. I also had to stand in the water flowing on the road so as to position myself between the camera and passing vehicles. While the third photograph was being captured, a leech found its way through the flowing water, into my right shoe. I didn’t feel anything then.

The usual two minutes passed and the camera started with its noise reduction. I glanced at the front of the lens and was happy. Not a single large droplet was there. This was perfect. Later I previewed the image and found no blurring due to dirty opticals.

Doing such long exposures eats up a lot of battery power. First the exposure itself takes up battery power and then the noise reduction, followed by saving of the image. Preview further drains the battery. Usually I hate previewing after every image, but in these shots, I had to check the histograms for exposure. I had a spare battery too in my bag but I didn’t need it even by the end of the day.


(The silky blur of the waterfall was worth the third attempt. f/16 aperture at 100 ISO with 2 minute exposure.)

Usually in long exposures, the leaves sometimes blur out due to movement from the wind. However in extremely long exposures, I have found the most of the leaves, especially the strong ones like that of grass, do not blur out. After getting blown away, they keep returning back to their original position. This causes the leaves to appear sharp (since they spend their maximum time out of the exposure time, in their native position) but with a faint colored halo caused by their movement.

The clouds were starting to gather again, I packed everything back into my car. Just in time too. A few seconds later when I was safely seated inside my car, the thunderstorm struck. It started pouring cats and dogs.

Ah! The leech! Totally forgot about that one. Once in the car, I felt some wet sticky sensation on my leg. On checking it out, I found some blood oozing. No sign of a leech. The local folk say that leech just takes up a minuscule amount of blood and then drops off on its own. That is what must have happened. The oozing blood took a long time to stop (thanks to the heparin from leech). Now I can happily say that I paid for the above photograph with my blood.

I munched on some snacks while the rain slowed down to a halt in a few minutes. A company of green parakeets flew close by. Encircled a few trees and flew back again. Nature is wonderful. It was time to move on and capture some more cascades and waterfalls.


Further Reading:
Mountain Stream & Long Exposures
Cascades & Waterfalls (opens in a new tab)



One thought on “On the trail of Cascades & Waterfalls

  1. Good narration. Leeches seem to have affinity to you. I still remember coorg.
    I find your tips quite useful.In monsoon season its tricky to get a good picture.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s