Picnic by a Mountain Stream

Few days back, I got a chance to visit a small mountain stream near my place. A group of friends made a plan for a picnic there. Mountain streams, with their rocks and cascades, always attract me. This one was also a great idea. Picnic by the stream, a couple of dips in the cold water, and some motion blurs. A great day awaited me.

The stream is just about an hour’s drive. We had a nice heavy breakfast and for a change, started late in the morning. The weather was fine. During the rainy season, this was a sunny day, with scattered clouds, and comfortable breeze. My friends had packed some sandwiches and some instant noodles. I had packed my tripod, a 25mm prime lens, Hoya PRO ND 1000 filter, and my camera body. I also packed a Micro Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 AI-s lens, just in case, for some macro work. What I did forget to pack was bathing trunks, towel, and some beer.

We started off for the stream in two cars. In my car, the fresh air caressed my face, while some old Hindi songs softly played on the radio. With each twist and turn of the road, there was a new vista in front of me. After every few meters, I wanted to stop for some photography but I controlled that urge. After all, it was not just me, but a group of friends. For them the stream was important. For me, journey is also as enjoyable as the destination. Still we drove on.

Once we reached the place, we parked the cars on the road side and unpacked everything. Everyone knew what to carry. Me? I had my camera bag and tripod to carry. Just a short trek and we reached the river side.

Cascading mountain stream

(Cascading mountain stream forming a ‘S’ through the rocks. These kind of curvy path breaks the monotony of straight lines. A little over half a minute exposure at f/22.)

The cascading water was too inviting for us. My hands itched to set up the tripod. I had forgotten everything. While I was setting up the tripod, I hear the first splash, then a couple of more. Some of them were already swimming around in a small water hole. Wow! This was when I realized that I had forgotten all about the fun in the stream and remembered to pack only the photography stuff.

The light was very bright. Even with the ND1000 filter, and with the ISO set to 50, it was forcing me to use small apertures for a reasonably long exposure. In fact the scene was so bright, that even after mounting the neutral density filter, I was able to make out the scene in front from the darkened viewfinder itself. Sure it needed some seconds for my eyes to adapt to the dark viewfinder but it was well worth it. No more planning the photograph without the filter and then mounting the filter!

The exposures were for around 30 seconds each, captured in ‘T’ mode. First click to open the shutter and second click to close the shutter. Aperture used was f/11 – f/22 in these photographs. I don’t recommend using a mirror lock up or timer function to reduce shake, since the 30 second exposure time is long enough. Those microseconds of movement are such a small fraction of the total exposure time that they don’t cause even a little bit of softening of the image. I didn’t use the ‘B’ mode since that requires pressing the shutter release as long as the shutter is required to remain open! Too much of a hassle for me. After all, I needed time to sip some beer during the exposures.

Ah! the beer. I had forgotten to bring that. However, someone had managed to get a couple of bottles. Bless that person! I was given just half a bottle of beer in a small glass, but I was happy. Something is better than nothing.

I realized that after clicking the shutter release, taking a sip of beer and having a few pringles, and then washing my hands in the stream and wiping them on the handkerchief… takes around 30-40 seconds. Just in time to end the exposure! I am too obsessed with clean hands and so for me touching the camera with greasy hands is a strict no. Most of my long exposures on this picnic were timed according to the beer and pringles initially, and later by the number of wild berries I could munch on.

Motion Blur

(Captured after getting my feet wet! Read on … )

The pictures were fabulous but I needed to strengthen the subject. I figured out that going to the center of stream and capturing some photographs while directly facing the flow would make some interesting images. It was time to get my feet wet (and my tripod too).

One of the things to remember is that tripod faces a tremendous amount of force when placed in a flowing stream. The correct way to use tripod in such a setting is to place it in such a manner that the flowing water first hits one of the legs and then the other two. The turbulence created by the first leg reduces the force on the other two. Next, I keep the front leg (the one facing the flow of the river) slightly lower than the others. This shift the center of gravity towards the front and further helps prevent the set-up from toppling into the stream. If you understand this and are brave enough to experiment, then do it. If not, feel free to contact me and I can explain in detail how the tripod should be set up inside a flowing stream. And yes… for most cameras that are not meant for underwater shooting, it goes without saying that the camera and lens should be kept away from water.

Tripod in Stream

(This is from my mobile phone camera. The tripod was set up in shallow waters then with just the half of the lowest section submerged. I did not capture its photo when it was submerged in deeper waters since I busy capturing photographs with the camera then. Notice how the legs are placed in respect to the flow of water.)

I was wet till my waist. Though I had taken off my shoes and curled the jeans above my knee, the water was a little more than expected. I had to carry my camera and tripod on my shoulder so as to place it securely later on in the center where the bed was a little high. The deepest I placed my tripod that day was about the mid-level of fully opened tripod. The lowest two sections of the leg were submerged, with only the upper section of the leg and the center-post remaining dry. The feet of the tripod rested on some rocks that I found on the riverbed. They provided some added stability.

From the center of flowing stream

(From the center of flowing stream, for this photograph, two legs of my tripod were fully open and more than half submerged in water, where as the third leg was not extended at all and it rested on a large rock jutting out of the stream.)

After clicking some photographs from the middle of the stream, I came back with my photography equipment to the dry land. I let the tripod dry in the sun.

Meanwhile, the instant noodles were getting cooked. Sandwiches were being passed around. It was picnic time. I had spent about an hour photographing the stream, while they had taken a swim, finished off the beer (including some more bottles that were hidden away from me, and relaxed under the trees too.

While I waited for the noodles, I spotted a beautiful butterfly. Most of us tried capturing some photos of it on our phones but just two of us could actually do some justice. I also used my phone and let the camera and the 105mm lens rest. My photograph does not show it as nicely as one of my friends and somehow my phone over-saturates the colors, still here it is –

The noodles were delicious. Some magpies also came hopping by. They too expected to join the picnic but we are extra careful so as to not leave any garbage behind. The magpies were in for a disappointment. Sandwiches were cold but I was famished and so enjoyed even those. After the food, most of us just lay down under the trees. I went back to the stream.

(Rocks and the Mountain Stream – The contrast between the sharply focused rocks and motion blur of water is one of my favorite subjects. I can never get enough of it.)

This time, I hopped on to some large rocks near the stream and set my tripod there. The light was not as bright as before. Some clouds had gathered up. I could use f/11 and exposures of about 60 seconds for some more images.

Someone had gathered lots of wild berries from nearby bushes. I was also given a good number of those. I could eat three handful of berries in about a minute. That’s how I kept a count of my exposure time for these photographs. Sadly, there was no beer left for this second run of photography.

While I was clicking these images, a faint drizzle started. The clear weather of the morning was gone. We were still a short trek away from our cars.

Everyone started hurriedly packing their stuff. I too finished my last exposure for the day and packed everything in my camera bag. There was no rain cover with me. I could only hope that the rain would not start too soon. We all hurried back to the cars. The rain stopped and the sky started to clear up again. Sad! I could have captured some more photographs. Well, there is always a next picnic. And this next time, I will not forget my swimming trunks and towel, and I will surely not forget my beer.

Rocky bed

(For the rule-book camera bugs, that’s almost a rule of thirds for you! With the greens, stream, and the foreground rocks covering up almost a third of frame each.)

If you want to join me for the next picnic and photography, do let me know. We can plan it together.

I have also provided these photographs for use in marketing our homestay – Mountain Stream near Trinetra Mahadeva. Do check it out.

Further Reading:
Mountain Stream & Long Exposures
Photowalk – Yet another Mountain Stream
Tripod – using it efficiently!

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