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'Move Out of the Ordinary '
Capturing Movement on film for effect
By Rob L. Suisted

(Originally published in New Zealand Outdoor magazine)

I’m lying here in a tiny tent high up in tussock country, above South Westland.  The rain and sleet are continuous and have been lashing us now for 4 days!  We’re itching to get outside and find some more of the elusive Chamois and Tahr we’re after, but for now we’re confined to the ‘pit’ (sleeping bag).  Four days of staring at yellow nylon walls can really get to you!

The wind is making the tent shake like a badly shaking thing.  Pea soup mist is scudding past at 50 knots, and a new born creek is freely moving under our groundsheet - what’s new, if you've been in the mountains you've probably been there?  In the brief interludes in the weather, I’ve been getting about enough time to: a) empty the bladder of the copious amounts of caffeine my hunting mate seems to brew on the half hour; b) retighten the guy ropes on the spinnaker we’re living in; c) enlarge the drainage moat with my spoon; and d) take some decent photos of the rapidly multiplying waterfalls that are thundering down around us.  It’s option ‘d’ that helps to maintain a certain amount of sanity at present, but the freezing water and mud that squeezes up through my toes doesn’t help.  Lying here now it seems like everything is moving except us - it seems to me like an apt moment to start an article on capturing movement on film.

In this article I hope to debunk the mystery behind a couple of types of images we’re all familiar with.  They’re both types that tend to be quite spectacular, and make viewers go ‘Wow!’ but are extremely easy to take, especially when you’re in the hills next.  They’re what you might call ‘chocolate box’ images for the obvious reason - images of cascading waterfalls in lush green forest, and the amazing night images you might occasionally see of star trails sweeping across the sky.  Both of these images rely on capturing movement to lift them from the ordinary, and fortunately they’re both very simple to create.



I attempted to give a very basic understanding of the principles of camera use in my last column.  The emphasis was on taking your camera off fully auto and getting back into the drivers seat - understanding f-stops, shutter speeds and ASA etc.  Without a solid understanding there is no ability for the photographer to develop his or her skills beyond a certain level. This article is an opportunity to take your photography beyond the basics.  You will be easily able to produce some satisfying results.


Cascading Water Images.
I admit that a really good image of pure white water cascading wildly over mossy green rocks deep in a NZ rain forest will always give me a good feeling.  I can conjure up all kinds of similar sights from my hunting trips, whether they are from the local ranges or deepest, wettest, mossy Fiordland, they mean a lot.  They also seem to provide a lot of enjoyment to the general viewer, and as such they can be eagerly sought after by image buyers, hence my image library bristles with them.  Here’s how to produce some outstanding results for yourself.


Your first prerequisite is for a calm, overcast day - easier said than done.  I strongly recommend that you hold out for one of these as it makes all the difference. 



Wintery alpine creek, Mt Adams, Westland.  Note that depth of field (focus) extends front to rear and that the overcast day does not produce any harsh shadows or highlights.  50mm lens, 1 second at f16. Fujichrome Velvia 50 ASA.


Being overcast the lighting will have a significantly lower contrast level (no deep black shadows and bright burnt out sunny areas) and the colour saturation of the final product will be much greater as a result, helping to produce those luscious greens.  A calm day is necessary because you’ll be using long shutter speeds to blur the water movement and it is helpful if the neighbouring vegetation is not trashing about in a violent southerly or it will be blurred also.  Taking these images after rain produces a nice glistening look to rocks and vegetation.

A sturdy tripod and a cable release is an absolute necessity to steady the camera and I suggest that you start with a wide angle lens, say 28mm or 35 mm.  The reason being that you’ll derive more depth of field (focus) with a wider lens for the same aperture.  Depth of field is of course critical in the exercise as we’re keen to get the whole image into focus from front to rear.

Next we must select a site.  Try a reasonably fast flowing stream as it will produce a good supply of whitewater in the final product.  The composition is yours to decide, but a few good pointers would be to use a fast dropping stream so you can have the stream wind up through the back of the image, and select a section of stream that has a decent set of cascades spread sideways across it.  Often placing the tripod in the middle of the river gives nice results - Be careful!

Think about doing  a little ‘cleaning’ of your image, e.g. you might decide to lift any undesirable objects out of the picture, such as dead twigs, or small rotting logs if it improves the picture.  I’m normally against this, but if it is done think about replacing them also.  Purists may criticise this but, it could be argued that any photo is a manipulation of the real thing?  Try sprinkling a few coloured dead leaves, yellow or red ones, around in the foreground for interest.

If you’re after a nice cascading stream then I suggest you initially aim for about a 1/2 sec shutterspeed to nicely blur the image.  The level of ‘blurry-ness’ is related to the shutterspeed and the water speed. 


A vertical plunging waterfall might only need 1/15 sec shutterspeed to give a nice result, while a slow deep river might need about 30 seconds.  So, once you’ve set up the photo you’ve got to choose your exposure.  Start on 1/2 sec and let the camera give you the aperture setting.  Note though, that I’ve found fast flowing water can trick some camera lightmeters.  To our eye, fast flowing water looks reasonably clear, but in the resulting image it will be come out pure white.  This tricks the camera’s lightmeter into thinking that there is more light available than what there really is and it will try and give you a higher light reading as a result - underexposing the photo.  Therefore, I compensate for this by overexposing the camera’s suggestion by 2/3 to one stop when there is a lot of cascading water in the frame.

The next step is to practice.  I don’t expect to get a really pleasing result every time I photograph a stream like this, there are just so many variables.  The trick is to take a selection at every site, varying perspectives (camera close to the water, above the water, from both sides of the stream), shutterspeeds and exposures.

You can also experiment with different lens filters.  On an overcast day it is worth trying a ‘warm up filter’ (normally a 81b type).  This has a slight orange/brown tint that gives a pleasing warmth to a scene and is often nice inside the bush.  Also, try a polarising filter.  Most people only use this filter on sunny days to darken the sky and whiten the clouds, but it is very useful in this instance for taking the reflections off the water and raising the colour saturation greatly.  However, the down side to the polarising filter is that it cuts the light entering the camera down by 2 stops (only allows a 1/4 through), but this isn’t really a problem if you’re using a tripod, it just means even slower shutterspeeds which are what we’re using anyway.

Star Trails
There’s no need to put the camera away once the sun has gone down, and you’re comfortably relaxed under your tent fly.  Some really spectacular images can be taken on those clear starry nights in the mountains.


‘Heavens above!’  5 1/2 hour time exposure looking South-east from Donnelly’s Flat, Tararuas.  50mm lens at f2, Fujichrome Velvia 50 ASA.

I remember years ago seeing striking night time images showing the rotation of the heavens, in National Geographic magazine, and thinking they were pretty amazing.  I still think they’re pretty impressive, but it’s not the same when you know how simple they are to create - have a try yourself - there are countless possibilities.

As the Earth rotates, the stars in the night sky circle around the Southern Pole.  By using a long shutter speed (hours instead of seconds) we can capture the paths of the stars as they move.

First, you need a starry night, second, a tripod and lockable cable release (if it’s not a locking one just use some tape to hold the button in), and third, a decent wait.  You can predict where the centre is that the stars will rotate around, and this is a good point to start.  Point the camera true South (use your compass), and the centre should be about 45 degrees above the horizon (but will vary from summer to winter).

Now, there are two key things to know.  The time that the shutter is open for only effects the length of the star trails, not the exposure (unless the moon is out).  The aperture setting you select effects the thickness of the star trails, and so does the film speed you use (a faster film, say 400ASA, the more distinctive the trails will be).  So, the longer the shutter can be left open the better, and the larger the aperture (say f2.8) the brighter the trails will appear.


Again, I recommend using a wide angle lens, say 28mm. Put your camera on manual and set the shutter speed dial to Bulb (B).  This allows the shutter to remain open for as long as the cable release is locked on.  A lot of modern cameras rely on battery power to hold the camera mirror up while this is happening, so you might need fresh ones. Set the aperture as wide as possible (say f2.8, or use faster film if you’re using a zoom lens that doesn’t have such a large aperture), set the focus on infinity and line up your shot - this is easier said than done, but a torch is good for checking the camera is a least level.  Last of all, lock the shutter open and retire back to the scratcher for at least an hour.

Things change a bit when the moon is out though, but this just adds more dimensions to your results - don’t get it in the picture though.  I’ve listed a few rough exposure times to try:
Star trails with no moon   (f2.8, 100 ASA for as long as possible)

Star trails with half moon  (f2.8, 100 ASA for 1 hour)

Star trails with full moon  (f2.8, 100 ASA for 40 minutes)

Try also starting the exposure in the late evening before the sky is fully black, the end result will be a pleasing blue tinge to the sky, rather than black.

# 4850 RT Star trails above the Hodder hut, Inland Kaikouras.  Taken during a full moon (which puts colour into the surrounding land and sky), and pointing true South (showing centre of rotation top centre).  Note the torch light trails of someone going out to wash dishes, and the candle light in the windows.  24mm lens, One hour exposure at f2.8, Fujichrome Velvia 50 ASA.


One note on using print film.  If you do this on print film and you receive your prints back and the night sky is a sickly looking grey colour, instead of a deep black, take them back and ask for them to be reprinted (it should be at no extra cost).  Because most processing machines run automatically, they are set to expect an average mid toned photo, but not all photos are like this, such as your one with a black sky.  Therefore the machine will try to turn your photo into an averaged toned mid grey colour by overexposing the final print, hence the result (the same thing happens if you’ve ever had photos of snow come out a murky grey colour).

Conclusion. Well, you might think that it’s a bit daft providing info on how to take photos of waterfalls and stars in a hunting magazine.  On the face of it I’d have to agree, but, both are activities that I regularly enjoy on hunting trips, and they neatly fit around the hunting activity itself. 


Streams are excellent to photograph on those wet, ’pit days’ around camp, and the heavens provide excellent activity on those winter trips when the sun sinks below the horizon at a miserable 4pm.

As you’ll see, the last photo example I’ve included of the ‘Ghost deer’ is a direct combination of the two - hunting and capturing movement on film.  I haven’t seen a photo like this before and it’s rather interesting for one reason only, that it has uniquely captured the movement of the animals in a way that ‘lifts it out of the ordinary’!

Next issue, we’ll be tackling photographing animals while they’re still!.


‘Ghost deer’. Time exposure of a wild hind and fawn, taken in the half light of  early morning.  4 seconds at f 5.6, Fujichrome 400 ASA.

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This article and images are copyright to Rob L. Suisted - Nature's Pic Images.  All rights reserved.