Help me get better!


TPF Noob!
Jul 21, 2013
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Seattle, USA
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So here's the story. I have never had any formal instruction in photography. I just picked up my mom's DSLR one day when I was in high school and put it in manual mode and messed with all the settings until I was taking pictures I liked. That's how I learned. Now I'm a few years and thousands of pictures removed from that first photography experience. I spent last weekend in Mt. Rainier National Park with my camera, and got a couple of good pictures. The one I'm sharing with you today took me 5 minutes or so to get the way I wanted. I tried to capture the what I saw, and I felt that I did an ok job, but the photo itself doesn't have quite as much visual substance as I would like. I'm totally open to any input! Any critiques or suggestions you have would be very much appreciated. I'm just trying to learn a little more about what cameras can and can't do. Does it look too dark, to light, is the white balance off? Tell me what you think. I shoot a Canon 5D Mark 1, with the 24-105 f/4L lens. Shot at 105mm, ISO 640, f/22, 1/5 sec. There are a couple of places (i.e. the top of the rock on the right) where I think it's not as sharp as it should have been (I was holding the camera, no tripod) and obviously putting it on a tripod is the best solution to that, however I don't know if I could have gotten a tripod down into where I was and there wasn't really a good place to set it up. But I digress. Anyways. Thanks to anyone and everyone for anything that say.

Wow, to get water movement like that at 1/5 of a second, that's really moving! It's not a bad photo by any stretch. I tend to prefer longer or shorter exposures for water, that is so that they're really soft and smooth (say 2-3 seconds) or short enough to make things crisp and sharp (say 1/500). Regardless, that's personal, and there's nothing wrong with your choice. What I do see as the area for improvement is the lighting. I think to get the most out of this scene you need to come back when the lighting is a little softer and more gentle, say earlier or later in the day (search "Golden hour"), and I would also try a polarizing filter as well which will help to give a richer, more saturated look. Of course there are locations like this where you simply cannot get the right light. I know right near my home is a beautiful little stream and waterfall very similar to this, but because it's deep in a canyon, the only light that hits it is when the sun is directly overhead, and the rest of the time it's in deep shadow. I've been there at every possible time of the day and never got a satisfactory shot.
Well I suggest then you get a monopod for those places where you do not want to carry a tripod. You can get a tripod anywhere, and set it up, I know I have done it many times over the decades I have been shooting. I do not know what you have for a tripod or what it weighs, but there are some adequate light weights out there as well at Best Buy/Wally world that if you damage or lose them the loss would be minimal. With a monopod I have use cracks in rocks, trees, and any other stable object as a way to get stability. Which is what you needed for this shot.
You did well for a hand shot as John said. The problem with the top of the rock or the scene is that you are dealing with mottled lighting. This means that the Dynamic Range of the scene is greater than one single shot can be compensated for by metering for anyone part of it. This is what HDR was made for to compensate for a large DR to get all of the scenes elements right in one image. Hence the need for support. I am guessing this is why you isolated such a small area of the subject as well, because the rest of the area was so bright it messed with main subject. I know I have done that before when I had no support with me.
I do not know how often you go up to the Rainier area. But I would try to make it to that spot when the light is better or on that area. In which case you would need both support, and a good ND filter. If the fall faces mostly south it is a matter of is it a good morning target, noon, or evening target. I go to sites many times looking for the light, and conditions to be right for a subject, or scene to get that wow shot for it. If I lived where you did I would be in that area a lot. Getting the shot you want is never easy, and this is one of those subjects that it may take a couple of times to get what you want. This is where patience comes in. All I know is that about the times I am about ready to give up on a spot that the shot comes up or close to it, making me continue going for it.
Thanks for the responses. I was at the fall in late afternoon (around 4:00), and the light was already fading in the ravine where the fall was. I'm not actually sure what direction the fall faces, but it didn't get a whole lot of direct sunlight at all do to the location and foliage, and it sounds like that was probably a larger problem than it seemed at the time. I've never owned a monopod, and dont really know the proper way to use one. Not knowing what was at the bottom of the ravine, or how steep it was (I'm a wimp), I went as lightweight as possible. If I ever go back there I would definitely bring a tripod. I just never know exactly what to bring with me. And John, the stream is glacial runoff from the mountain. No idea about the gallons per minute, but it was really moving. Thank you very much for the input.
Based on this one picture, the next thing I think you should be doing is working on what makes a good picture, rather than what's very stunning and beautiful to look at. While I am sure this was spectacular while you were there, I don't think it translates well in a photograph. The light is quite dull and uninteresting, except perhaps for the dappling on the right of the frame.

I think there might be some good pictures here, but my instinct is that they're mostly in much closer, to bring out those rich details which you're enjoying while you're standing there.

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