The Waterfall Portrait
My friend Mariana is in her senior year of high school. I certainly wanted to shoot her senior portraits. She informed me of a park in my area that has fountains. I thought I knew all the cool spots for pictures but this one surprised me and I took an immediate liking to. Lawler Falls park has artificial waterfalls falling into ponds made to resemble the nearby marshlands. I was pleasantly surprised the falls were on and the ponds not dry, here in parched California.
I have gotten quite good at long exposure photos of waterfalls and other forms of water in motion, such as surf. The audio/visual experience of water in motion is very appealing to human beings. Showing water in motion in a single still photograph usually means a long shutter speed of about half a second or more. Enter the tripod. Now, how to add a person to the photo? If I shot only in natural light I would have to take two shots on a tripod. First, for the motion blur of the waterfalls and second, a really fast shutter speed for the subject. No mere mortal could stay perfectly still for 1.5 seconds, especially a teenager. Then I would have to layer the two photos and composite in post processing. There is a better way: Off camera flash.
I knew I wanted the falls in the background. After scouting the park a week prior, I knew the area near the falls was in shade in the afternoon. The exposures I got were about 1 to 1.5 seconds, long enough to blur the water and get that silky smooth waterfall effect.
I've done quite a bit of reading and watching Youtube videos regarding off camera flash. There are two exposures in a single shot: First, expose for the ambient background using shutter speed, then expose the foreground subject with flash and aperture. I wanted plenty of depth, so I set my aperture to f/8. I knew well enough to set my camera to rear curtain sync. This means that just before the shutter closes, the flash fires and freezes the subject. Which is how the falls have motion blur but Mariana is not blurry.
Since I was successful with the flash, I had a single RAW file to edit in Lightroom. After some basic contrast adjustments, I used my custom Lightroom Adjustment brush presets to retouch. Face:Glow does skin smoothing with a slight increase to exposure on the face. I emphasized hair highlights and clarity and add contrast around eyes. For whitening the eyes, I used to use Lightroom's teeth whitening preset, but I found that almost always too extreme. I made a custom version that both lightens slightly and desaturates slightly.
To finish, I simply dodged (lightened) the brightest parts of the falls.