Larry Treadwell  

Spruce Flats by Larry Treadwell

June 2020 - Spruce Flats

About the Image(s)

Spruce Flats Falls

Nikon D800 with 24-70 mm f2.8 lens at 26mm. ISO 100, f20, 6 seconds. Image from Nikon RAW file
Circular Polarizer plus 6 stop Neutral Density filter.
Tripod and cable release

It was spring in the Great Smoky Mountains and I wanted to capture a serene scene with a waterfall a full flow and the look of spring. I had waited for a cloudy day for this outing because waterfalls are best photographed under conditions where there is no direct sunlight to cause the highlights to be burned out and because the heavy cloud cover would act as a photographic umbrella to soften the available light and cast the entire scene in an even glow. The heavy flow caused by the spring melt would guarantee enough mist to keep the rocks wet and thus prevent shiny spots. I used the circular polarizer not so much for reducing glare on the rocks but because it would reduce the glare on the surface of the splash pool and reveal the stones that lay below the water’s surface. Since the scene was lit by soft light I used my 6 stop Neutral Density filter to keep the water soft (to complement the overall feel of the scene) but still leave some detail in the flow of the water. When I arrived at the site I was greeted with an abundance of pin rhododendron blossoms that I felt screams of springtime. My hardest compositional decision was how to place them in the scene without overpowering the muted colors of the falls with the arresting red of the flowers. Since the eye is drawn to the brightest portion of the scene the falls became the focal point of the scene but I used the curve of the falls to point toward the flowers to help the eye move through the scene. My tripod was literally set up in the rhododendron bushes and placed at the closest edge of the hyperfocal distance to keep the flowers as large and dominate as possible. I hoped the overall effect would create tranquility with a touch of spring.

My big questions are did I over do or under do the floral impact. Are they too dominate or not dominate enough? Also, would I have been better served by cropping this into a square format and removing some of the left side of the image? I left the image rectangular because I felt the leading line of the splash pool helped guide the eye to the falls as do the foreground rocks. I also felt this format helped create a environmental feel to the image and not a strict postcard like tight frame of the falls. I wanted the falls to have room to live in the scene.

In post I corrected the white balance to get the blue out of the falls, slightly opened the shadows to avoid black holes I did this by adjusting both the white and black points. I also used the adjustment brush to enhance the pinks in the flowers. I also added a touch of clarity and texture to bring out the moss and rocks.

Did I accomplish my goals or not? I am eager to know your thoughts.

This is much more detailed than I would expect people to write for their images but I hope if give you something to think about as you evaluate an image. Maybe it will also give you some thoughts as to what you might want others to look for in your images.

This round’s discussion is now closed!
15 comments posted

Margaret Frazer   Margaret Frazer
I love the waterfall. The rhododendron seems a bit bright and distracting since the star is the waterfall. It is beautifully captured. You might want to consider either cropping out the first rock or including the whole of it??? a slight crop on the left would work but I wouldn't take too much. The waterfall is spectacular.   Posted: 06/01/2020 12:17:31
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
(Groups 36 & 67)
Thanks for the feedback. Since this is almost full frame I won't be able to bring back anymore of the foreground rock. But I can crop a bit from the left.   Posted: 06/05/2020 20:49:52

Bristow Joseph   Bristow Joseph
Hi Larry,

Thats just an awesome image of a waterfall during spring season and very impressive the way you achieved the long exposure using the ND filter and in order to remove the reflection the use of polarizer etc. I am very much impressed on the preparations/planning you took for before a nature photo shot like the waiting for a cloudy day to get a diffused light and all , which normally I never did before and we are learning from your detailed note on how did you managed it.

Indeed when I look through my critical eyes on the picture I noted the below things and did the minute corrections in the attachment of my crop version .

> A micro adjustment on the Horizon level
>The foreground rock ,you would have kept it full or make it 50% only
>I think a little bit more adjustment brush work need to be done on the flowers and the leaves of the rhododendron.

The picture is not seems to be as sharp as required especially with a camera of 36 MP and one reason I think is because of the highest aperture you used in this image which is f/20 , I have found in my online research that the nikon 24-70/f2.8 lens is not sharp at a focal length of 26mm and at or above f/15 and the link from DXO mark is attached here ( would have gone to f/11 for this image and would have used a higher stops ND filetr to get the required shutter speed .The other option was to take pictures at different focus points in the same frame and do the focus stacking in order to have a sharp foreground rocks /rocks on the waterfalls etc.
  Posted: 06/03/2020 22:05:58
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Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
(Groups 36 & 67)
I appreciate the feedback.I based my straightening off the fall of the water. The backof the splash pool has a bend in it that makes the horizon look crooked. I've found this happens quite often in nature. I usually try to straighten an image by using either falling water, ot the vertical lines of trees. There are no trees here to work with so I used the water.

My camera position was only slightly more than 3 feet from the flowers (This is a 24-70mm lens not the 14-24 which I do not have). At a shallow aperture like f11 I could not get the background and the flowers in focus and I never have been very successful at focus stacking falling water so I had to use the higher f stop.   Posted: 06/05/2020 21:04:14

Stephen Levitas   Stephen Levitas
(Group 32)
Hi Larry,
As usual, your explanation of your "taking" process is detailed and full of good information, especially about using a cloudy day for an outdoor shot. Thanks.
I love this tranquil scene, and like the foreground/background composition. I agree with your self-suggestion to crop a bit from the left and go to a square format. See my attached suggestion. Also, I tried doing an overall "darken highlights" and then selected the foreground flowers only, and did an additional "darken highlights" on them. What do you think?   Posted: 06/04/2020 15:03:32
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Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
(Groups 36 & 67)
I like the darkened flowers. Originally they were a very pale pink which made them look over exposed and washed out. I worked to get some color in them but you got a bit more.

Your crop is just about what I ended up with when I shot this vertical. My original shot was horizontal but I took a second one vertical.   Posted: 06/05/2020 20:53:42

Gary Schafer   Gary Schafer
Good Afternoon Larry,

My oh my. What a difficult shot from a number of perspectives. The most obvious of course is where to place the falls in the frame. What do they say? You should never place the subject in the middle of the frame? Well, you dispelled that wive's tale :) In my opinion, you framed the photo very well. The second difficulty is that of properly exposing the water, i.e. slowing the speed down enough to obtain the lacy effect without blowout. My third observation is how well you brought out the dark side of the image. I can see good detail in the black rock. Very well done!!   Posted: 06/05/2020 14:24:52
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
(Groups 36 & 67)
Thanks very much for the kind remarks. When I look at this image I see the flowers in the right corner and the falls as a continuous curved line leading into and upward throughout the entire image. So for me that curved line lets the subject start on the right fixation points and flow into the frame.

That might not be fully acceptable, but it works for the way I see it.

Thanks again.   Posted: 06/05/2020 16:31:07

Tage Christiansen   Tage Christiansen
Hi Larry
I like the soft waterfall, but I thought there was too much left on the waterfall, I've been trying to cut into the stone in the water.
There is something about the flowers on the right, they draw their eyes away from the waterfall, so I've tried to subdue them a little, to keep the waterfall's attention.   Posted: 06/06/2020 06:14:17
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Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
(Groups 36 & 67)
Hmmm... Maybe I just goofed. I waded across the splash pool just to put those flowers into the picture. Maybe I should not have bothers and just left them out. Seems several folks agree with you.   Posted: 06/06/2020 07:16:21
Gary Schafer   Gary Schafer
Larry, I always shoot in Camera RAW. The RAW image has a sidecar xmp file associated with it. How do I submit the original image? Just submit the CR2 file? Is that the original image and will it display on the group website?   Posted: 06/09/2020 12:11:11
Gary Schafer   Gary Schafer
In my onion, the rocks in front of the flowers that are in the water, might have made a very good foreground. That would have excluded the flowers. With that composition I might have excluded a bit from the left of the waterfall and put the waterfall in the left 2/3 or so of the photo with the rocks serving as a leading line?   Posted: 06/09/2020 12:18:16

Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
(Groups 36 & 67)
OK for all the folks who don't like the flowers because they draw attention away from the falls this is just for you.   Posted: 06/06/2020 07:29:06
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Glenn Rudd   Glenn Rudd
This is a very pleasing image due in large part to your preparation, choice of equipment, and technical expertise. I think the brightness of the flowers is distracting. If you can recover the detail, they make a nice foreground, although I also like the version without the flowers. I agree with the comments by Bristow regarding focus and the small aperture. My experience with achieving the "silky" look the water is that a 2 to 3 second exposures is usually adequate. This would allow you to open up the aperture and possibly achieve better focus.   Posted: 06/06/2020 09:27:32

Dave Ficke   Dave Ficke
Larry, great explanation on the Pre-visualization. I know that I have ruined a number of great shots by just taking the photo without looking around and "seeing" what is there. It is critical to see what are some issues as well as paying attention to know what your subject is and not have competition with it.
It does appear that the consensus is that the flowers helps frame the image maybe a bit too much of not at all. Your call.
The foreground rock, I go with having a strong anchor in the foreground, but it the bottom is cut off then I think you have captured the image in your post on 6-6.

Very nice   Posted: 06/14/2020 18:55:40