Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall using filters.

For my next college assignment we were tasked with shooting images of the tallest single drop waterfall in Britain which is situated in Pistyll Rhaeadr, Wales. We were then expected to use software tools to manipulate or enhance the images to prepare them for output which in this case could be the screen based image like on this blog or for a gallery that we are preparing for at a later date.


The above image is my favourite shot of the day, the waterfall was shot with the camera mounted on my tripod and with the camera settings shown below in the next window. I also mounted a filter holder onto the front of the lens and put a soft graduated filter into the holder, this was so that I would not blow out (overexpose) the sky too much . The filter was from the LEE collection and I used a 0.9 three stops of light difference filter. Grad filters and Neutral density filters are used in various types of photography especially landscape and architectural photography to firstly, keep detail in sky’s without overexposing and in architecture images they can be useful to subtract people from the image by using a powerful ND filter. When there are people in the frame that are moving around the light hitting the cameras sensor from the people is not strong enough to register them as they are not there for long enough thus making them invisible in the image.

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Above is an example of a street image shot with a 10 stop ND filter attached to clear the street of anyone who was wandering around, as you can see the street looks totally empty and it is a place where you wouldn’t normally get this shot unless you closed the road off. ND filters can be very useful in a variety of situations and I think every keen photographer should have a set.

Because of the longer exposure of my shot at the top of my page you can also see that the running water in the shot has got the milky water look to it. I like this effect as I think it gives more separation of the water from the foliage. One being rough in texture while the other is smooth and silky, a sort of contrast that gives the image a better look to it. If I had used a fast shutter speed I would have frozen the water and I don’t think it would have looked as aesthetically pleasing. I think if you want to freeze the water with a fast shutter speed you would perhaps be better off shooting the water up-close to really capture the detail of the droplets which is something you will not do from the distance I was shooting at.

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The above image is five shots focus stacked into one image. Now, this is a very good technique if you are going to blow the image up into a large scale because to get the focus sharp from the back to the front of a single image you would need to use a small aperture like f22 and using this size of aperture you do not get the sharpest of images as when you use around f8 or whatever the lens you are using’s sweet spot is. All lenses have their own sweet spot for sharpness and it is worth the photographer finding the particular sweet spot for the lens they are using when shooting. All you need to do to find the sweet spot is put your camera on a tripod facing a wall from a couple of meters and have some detailed (and sharp) image on the wall and take photographs of the image at the lowest ISO possible but varying the aperture and then look at the results on the computer, you will clearly see the sharpest image you have taken and you will know the sweet spot for the particular lens you are using.

Another reason to use focus stacking in photography is when you are shooting at close range as with food photography for instance because, when shooting at close range the depth of field tends to be quite narrow and using focus stacking will make you able to extend the focus throughout image. Also, using longer focal length lenses will render the depth of field narrower thus bringing in the requirement to use focus stacking depending on the image idea.

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Above you can clearly see how much the image is out of focus in one section of the image was until the images were stacked together. These two images were part of the five images that were stacked together to create the sharp focus throughout the image.

To actually focus stack the images first you need to upload the images into Photoshop using ‘scripts’ and ‘load files into stack’. Highlight your files you wish to stack in the source files window and click ‘attempt to automatically align source images’ click ok. The program will then upload the files and attempt to align them roughly. All the files will appear on the right hand side of the program screen as layers. Go to ‘edit’, scroll down and select ‘auto-blend layers’. The program will usually realise that you are attempting focus stacking. If not, click on stack images and click ok. Photoshop will then neatly blend the layers together using the in-focus ares of the images to create a balanced, focused image out of the layers. Zoom in and check that you are happy with the image and then go to ‘Layer’ on the top bar and scroll down for ‘Flatten image’. This will make your chosen shots into one layer. There will usually be a rough edge to the image where the pixels are not perfect so just crop this out of the image and then save it. Thats all there is to it. Below is a video of me performing the task.


To capture this image I used my Nikon D850 DSLR mounted on a tripod and the 20mm f1.8 lens with a circular polariser filter attached. The filter is included so that the glare from the water would not be showing in the image and you can look straight through the water. Although this is a common method used by photographers, it is done for a reason, it just looks better. It gives you more detail in the image to see. I shot the five images at ISO 64 to get the most detail as possible at f7.1 which is near the sweet spot for the lens at a time of 0.60 seconds which allowed the water to be captured as it was.

I must state that I do not think that this composition is the best I have ever produced but, really I was concentrating on the focus stacking idea as this was the first time I had used this technique and I know that it is a very useful technique especially for landscapes and product/food images.

Overall I think that this section of my assignment went pretty well as I got the main shot I wanted with the help of the filters and that is what it was all about obviously the post production of the focus stacking worked as well so I have got be happy with that also. Although the composition was not the greatest. If I had more time to shoot I would have spent as long as it took for me to find a better composition because I only had about an hour and a half to get all the shots and I spent a lot of time getting the first image. If I was producing images of this Wonderfull waterfall for a client in the real world I do not think I would have left till dark to get images that I was really proud of, maybe I would have stayed after dark too to experiment with mega-long exposure times to get a night shot hey, that’s one for the future.


Just to finish off, below is a ‘gritty’ version of the waterfall I manipulated in Photoshop by lowering the saturation to black and white levels then upping the clarity to around 60%, adding a graduated filter to the sky and adjusting that separately while adding contrast and clarity to it. Then I used the adjustment brush to add highlights to the trees closer to the camera while darkening the ones at the top of the image. I added highlights to the grass at the bottom right of the image and this was all just to make the image ‘pop’ more with various parts of the image looking more visually exiting.





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