Shooting Godafoss: Erez Marom takes us behind the picture
In this article I'll take you far away to northern Iceland, to the beautiful and majestic waterfall named Goðafoss (Godafoss). One of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, Goðafoss is located in the Mývatn district in the North of the island. We visited the waterfall a couple of times while scouting locations for my 'Winter Paradise' workshop which takes place next winter.
At the end of the first millennium, Christianity became the official religion of Iceland. The Icelanders consequently threw statues of the Norse gods into the waterfall, thus giving it its name - Goðafoss - 'waterfall of the gods'.
Goðafoss proved quite hard to shoot. The first time we visited, apart from the sky being bleak, the winds brought unending spray from the waterfall. at -10 degrees centigrade, the spray immediately froze on my front polarizing filter, turning the shoot into a Sisyphean task consisting of composing, focusing, then wiping the stubborn ice off the front filter for about a minute, then checking focus and composition again, then wiping again if needed, and only then shooting one image before repeating the whole process.
|The spray froze the instant it hit the filter - that is solid ice! Imagine how frustrating it is wiping the ice off the filter after each and every shot...||The gushing water made the long exposure necessary to get smoother water.|
The image discussed in this article was shot during my second visit to the waterfall, and luckily I was greeted by better visibility and slightly less wind and spray.
I shot the image using my Canon EOS 5D Mark III, with a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens, a Lee Pro Glass 0.9 ND, a Lee 0.9 soft grad and a 105mm Heliopan circular polarizer. The ND filter made the exposure longer, and the grad partially balanced the global contrast in the scene, caused by the sky being much brighter than the waterfall and the foreground.
As for exposure, I set the shutter to four seconds (to get the smooth motion in the gushing water) at ISO 200, f/13. The small aperture served to enlarge depth of field, to get the whole scene in focus, but it also contributed to the exposure length. Even with the spray, I got a rare opportunity when the wind went down for a few precious seconds, so I could take quite a long exposure.
At first glance, the composition here seems pretty straightforward. But there was a little bit more thought to the image than you might think. Let's observe the line-scheme below.
first of all, most images of Goðafoss have a rock in the foreground. This rock isn't visible in this image, thought, because the cold weather gave me a rare foreground alternative: this beautiful frozen crust on the snowy bank. This already makes me quite happy about the image's originality factor, but there's more. It seems that there are two opposing curves here: one at the foreground, starting at the bank up until the edge of the ice-crust, and the other at the background, starting at the edge of the waterfall and continued by the clouds above it. These curves complement each other quite well and make a substantial contribution to the flow of the image.
Another aspect is the inclusion of my workshop-co-guide Skarpi, who was shooting another angle of the waterfall, in the image. As a nature photographer I don't usually include people in my images. However, in this one I did, for a couple of reasons. First, this big guy looking so small serves to convey the sheer size of the waterfall to the viewer.
The second reason has to do with composition: most elements in the image seem right-facing (see the arrow in the image above, indicating the water's movement direction), and so the photographer facing left balances what would have otherwise been a somewhat imbalanced shot. You may agree or disagree with me on this, you may (like I do) say that he would be better positioned on the left side, but generally I think he contributes to the result.
Let's view the untouched RAW file.
The harsh spray coming from the waterfall, even though I continuously wiped it off my lens, reduced contrast and saturation in my exposure, so I knew I'd have to to take action to get those back. In addition, the sky was too bright for the filter to compensate for, so it was clear I had to do some pushing and pulling here to get things to looks closer to how they were in reality.
I started as I usually do, by aligning the image, cropping it gently to perfect the balance, and applying Photoshop's automatic lens correction. While I kept the distortion correction fully, I decreased the amount of vignetting correction, to keep some of it in order to keep the attention in the center of the image. I also applied some very minor tweaks to the white balance, clarity and vibrance.
Next came two local adjustments. They are not striking, but they had a positive effect on how the image looks and feels to me.
The next stage was saving the image as a TIFF file and opening it in Photoshop for further work. After a small levels correction I began the main task of compensating for the lack of contrast and saturation in the sky, caused by the water on my front filter and by the graduated filter not being dark enough. The sky was quite blue that day, even more so when viewed through a polarizing filter, and I needed that color in my image if I wanted it to look good and more representative of the reality.
To process the sky independently, I selected it using the quick selection tool, and then refined the selection by using the 'refine edge' tool in the selection menu, thus making sure the sky was the only area selected, and that the transitions in selection weren't too sharp.
|Selecting the sky.||refining the selection by clicking and "painting" along the edge.|
Now I had a good selection of the sky. I increased the contrast by pushing the levels on an adjustment layer.
|Notice how low in contrast the sky is, due to the above mentioned reasons.||Adjusting levels enabled me to regain much of the lost contrast, and to give the sky the brightness and color closer to what it had in reality.|
The final touch was adding some saturation. Some of you may think that the final image is a bit over-saturated. That's a question of individual taste, and I tried several variations before settling on this level, but you should know that this version isn't far from reality at all - the sunrise colors and polarized sky were quite intense, and the saturation increase brought the image closer to, not further from, my perception of the reality.
After finishing the post-processing, as always, I converted the image to the sRGB color profile, performed size-reduction and some sharpening, and I was done!
Erez Marom is a professional nature photographer and photography guide based in Israel. Every January, Erez guides his Iceland winter photograpy workshops: 'Land of Ice' in the south and 'Winter Paradise' in the north and west. If you'd like to experience and shoot some of the most fascinating landscapes on earth with Erez as your photography guide, you're welcome to see the workshop webpages for details and participation, and view Erez' Iceland gallery. You can watch a teaser video here.
You can follow Erez on his facebook page, 500px and deviantArt galleries. More from Erez about the subject can be found in his articles 'Winter Photography in Iceland' and 'Behind the Shot: Dark Matter'.