Recently I saw this cool shot online and contacted the photographer; Jacob Lucas and asked him where the falls were and how he created a uniquely different approach to photographing a waterfall at night. Here he describes how he did it:
“This waterfall is located in the Eastern part of Washington state in the USA. The region of the state is called Palouse, which is a large area of rural and agricultural land, but also home to Palouse Falls State Park, where this exists.
I knew that I wanted to photograph the falls at dusk and if the clouds cooperated (i.e. decided to take leave for the weekend) try to photograph the stars and the night sky, too. I left Seattle around 5pm which was a little too late for sunset by the time I got there, so I made do with the clear night sky knowing I could return the following night for sunset. I’m glad a did, because the night sky was covered by cloud on the next day. Regarding specifically how I would photograph the falls, I didn’t exactly know how before I got there. It was my first time visiting the area despite living in Seattle for several years. I’m a big believer of exploring an area you’re new to photographing before even taking the camera out of the camera bag. This way as you walk around, you get a great feel for what exactly speaks most to you about the landscape around you. I looked for interesting compositions closer to and further away from the falls, and ultimately decided on this vantage point.
The exposure on the falls was bright for a couple of reasons. My camera was set to expose for 30 seconds at a high ISO sensitivity to allow the camera to read as much light as possible from the sky as well as the falls. This duration was also about as long as you can reliably go at Washington’s latitude without getting star trails and keeping the milky way nice and sharp in the sky.
The other part to getting the falls so bright was “light painting”. This is pretty much what it sounds like, you “paint” with the light from a powerful flashlight or lantern on the subject that you want to illuminate in the final photograph. Nice and even brushes with the flashlight beam over the subject (in this case, the falls and the surrounding cliffs) resulted in a pretty great exposure on the falls.
There were a couple of challenges here – the first was finding the right amount of time to expose for without getting any blur in the star trails or in the Milky Way. I knew I wanted the sky to be sharp and without trails, so a couple of exposures before to validate my shutter speed and zooming in to 100% on the stars when reviewing on the LCD helped to confirm that.
Secondly and most difficult was actually focusing on the falls. When it’s totally dark outside, you can’t see what to focus on and neither can your camera. There are a couple of ways around this, both of which I ended up using here. I scoped around to get my composition while it was still light, set up my tripod, focused, and then set my camera to manual focus so that when I was set to expose for the shot later that night, my focus was already locked in where it needed to be. The other way was to shine a light on somewhere at a far away distance and use that illuminated area to focus in a pinch, when it’s completely dark.
Lastly, I actually had to use a rental camera for this shoot… and when I first noticed the green hues in the frame I was actually concerned that something was wrong with my rental camera. Auroras are quite rare in Washington so I didn’t really think of it at first. After a couple of exposures I noticed it moving in the frame and I began to realize what was going on. It was a really faint aurora and not quite visible to the human eye, but the camera sure could see it. I’m glad that I was reviewing the frames I was shooting because I thought I was done when I noticed the green anomaly in one of my photos. Since the Milky Way was moving faster than the Aurora was, I had to recompose and pan to camera-right a couple of times to actually get this shot.
All in all, you never know what you’re going to get when you photograph the night sky, you really do have to be ready for anything!” I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Charlie for the chance to write about this image and feature my work on his website. It was fun and a pleasure to share the back story of this image and to answer some good questions at the same time
You can see more of Jacob Lucas’s photography on his website at:
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