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Post Processing Waterfalls – Nelson Falls

An interesting conversation during a recent photography workshop leads me to this article today – about post processing waterfalls for an authentic, rather than “fake” image. We were at Nelson Falls and the conditions were challenging as there was a lot of white water on the waterfall as well as a lot of dark shade in the surrounding forest. My attitude to post processing is to make the most of what’s available (in my case I use Photo Shop a lot more than Light Room – not for any particular reason mind you, I wouldn’t dare suggest one was superior (or inferior!) to the other…

post processing waterfalls nelson falls tasmania

Post Processing Waterfalls – “As shot” – exposed for the bright white water results in a very dark forest scene.

Obviously with a waterfall you dont want to over-expose and overexpose the waterfall, which is of course the main feature. Exposing for the water however results in a very dark shadows and vice versa exposing for the shadows means your highlights (and therefore image) are ruined.

Nelson Falls Post Processing

Using the same raw file I opened the image again, this time overexposing the scene to bring some detail and colour into the forest. The waterfall too becomes brighter.

Post Processing Waterfalls – My Technique

So thats where post processing comes in… I believe in “natural” post processing ie aiming to recreate the image as it appears naturally without gaudy colours and overtly HDR like even light. Shadows exist in the landscape and give an image some mood and mystery so eliminating them entirely isn’t a goal of mine.

My technique for this particular image was as follows:

1: Open the image exposed for the highlights (ie the dark image above)

2: Re-open (ie same raw file) again brightening for the shadows

3: Copy bright image and paste on dark image.

4: Add layer mask.

5: Use gradient tool (I used the “radial” gradient for this particular image).

Nelson Falls in Tasmania's World Heritage Area

The result – nice details in the waterfall as well as colour and detail of the mossy green forest. Hopefully a faithful recreation of what we see when we are there in person, not a “fake” image…

Done! If necessary you can flatten the image and do any further alterations you like.

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About Luke

Luke O'Brien runs a stall at Hobart's popular Salamanca Market every Saturday where his prints and cards are available for purchase. Follow Luke's photographic adventures on Twitter at @lukeobrienphoto, at his Facebook page or by subscribing to his email newsletter.