Shoot Like a Pro, Part 2

The second installment of Scout's five-part series on taking your outdoor photography to the next level.

"Sol Duc Splash" by Glenn Nelson

If you've ever been photographically challenged by the likes of the indifferent dog, recalcitrant relative or churlish child, try Mother Nature on for size. She can be as fickle as any subject, requiring planning, alternatives and flexibility.

To wit, I recently visited my "home" national park, Olympic (Wash.), with the goal of shooting Sol Duc Falls, one of the most photographed waterfalls anywhere. The weather was supposed to be cooperative – cloudy, which is the usual state of affairs in the Pacific Northwest, even in the spring and summer. Clouds and forest are allies when photographing moving water, which we'll discuss in a moment.

However, I failed to come up with anything special, even after returning early the next morning. On the access road out, I stopped at a marked spot, "Salmon Cascades," that I reflexively passed because of a camera icon on the sign, which said to me that everybody and their brother made a cheap picture there.

Not only did I have the place to myself, a quick Web search revealed few images of the spot, especially when salmon are not running, as obviously they weren't last week.

Moreover, aided by the relatively early morning hour, the lighting conditions remained favorable. The absence of a blaring sun, plus the additional filtering from tree cover, allows you to achieve a low shutter speed, thus rendering ribbon-like effects to moving water. This better conveys a sense of motion. Low ambient light accommodates desirable shutter speeds without resorting to smaller aperture settings, risking decreased sharpness, or filters, which can introduce distortion.

I used a polarizer to remove most of the potentially distracting shine from the wet rocks. That also allowed me to achieve a shutter speed of 1/3 at a reasonable f-stop. I think a lot of people use too slow a shutter speed, making the water too blurry and white, often blowing out highlights. At 1/3, you still get some definition in the water.

More than any exposure calculations, this image really was made possible by keeping an open mind, essential while photographing outdoors.

Equipment: Nikon D800, Nikkor 18-35mm f3.5-4.5 lens, Really Right Stuff TVC-33 tripod, Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead, Lee Filters circular polarizer.

Settings: 34mm, f9, 1/3 seconds at ISO 100.

Glenn Nelson was a founding executive at and editor-in-chief during its first six years. More of his work, as well as background and contact information, can be found at

Click here for Part 1, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 of this series.

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