Easy Composite Strategy for Creating a Great Waterfall Shot

Waterfalls are one my favorite photographic subjects. I like to use slow shutter speeds to capture that flowing silky look. To do that, I try to use a 1/2 second exposure. If the water is flowing fast, a slightly faster shutter speed will accomplish a satisfactory result, but when possible I stick to a half second.

Unfortunately, such a slow shutter speed may eliminate a feature that a faster shutter speed would have caught. Look at the two photos below. The one on the top captured the look I wanted and while I like it a lot, one thing I liked about this waterfall was the foam that it created in the pool. A close look at the next photo reveals that I captured the detail in the pool that is missing from the the photo on the top. So does that mean I can’t have the best of both worlds? Not at all. Combining the best features of both photos is easily done. Here’s how.

In the field, you must use a tripod to capture the waterfall using different settings. It is important to get the exact same composition for each photo. That’s why a tripod is a must. For the photo on the top, I used a shutter speed of 1/2 second. For the other one, I shot at 1/60 second.

When shooting at slow shutter speeds, you will be using small apertures, like f-16, f-22 or even smaller. Small apertures will keep everything in focus. I made top image using an aperture of f-22. The lower shot was made at f-8. While everything in it is in acceptable focus, the foreground on the top photo much sharper.

Once you have your photos, open both of them in Photoshop. Click on Window, Arrange, Tile All Vertically. Photoshop will place both photos together on your screen. Click on the photo with the attributes you like most. (In this case, the top photo.) We’ll call it photo 1. Then press and hold the CTRL key, then press the J key. That will create a duplicate layer. Then select the Move tool. Using your mouse, grab the layer and move it over photo 2. Then press and hold the shift key and release the layer. Using the shift key will perfectly align that layer from photo 1 over the photo 2. When you’ve done that, close photo 1.

Now click on the add a layer mask icon. Here’s where the magic happens. Use a soft brush and set the opacity control to about 30%. Use it to paint over the area of the pool where the bubbles and foam are on the layer below it. Paint until you get the effect you are looking for. Here’s my final photo.

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