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A Waterfall. October 24, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
Tags: , , , , ,

This Autumn was a bit of a disappointment to me, photographically speaking; the color was lack-luster, less than vibrant, and painfully brief. Long dry stretches punctuated by prolonged wind and rain kept me from seeing what I’d spent a year visualizing, and made it all go away much too quickly.

As an example of what I mean, the fall colors limped along from faded to trying to brown, then blew away. A photographer friend had suggested we share a ride out to Bash-Bish Falls in the southwestern corner of the state, but that never happened, both because there was no particular time when the colors were vibrant, and because at their presumptive peak, the weather had been so dry that the Falls were reduced to a pitiful trickle.

Ah, well – Cest la guerre.

But today, on the heels of a few days of rain, I took the plunge and drove the circuitous route out to Copake, NY and up into the chasm where Bash-Bish plunges through its spooky little gorge, and hiked down to the falls, knowing damned well I’d missed the foliage season but would at least have water.

The light sucked (that’s technical photographers’ talk) and despite the long drive and steep walk in, tormenting my ruined right ankle, I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to set up a tripod. Instead, I scrambled up and down the river banks, navigating wet-leaf-coated boulders above lethal drops into roiling whitewater, occasionally flopping down to see what Elliot would see should I decide to push his buttons, and eventually settling on this:

That’s hand-held at 1/125th of a second, not how tilt-shift shots are usually done, but hey…

This turns out to be a really clear example of what the “tilt” in a tilt-shift lens does. I wanted to capture the river clearly, from front to back, but the low light really didn’t allow for the high f-stop (small lens opening) which gives great depth-of-field. Instead, I chose f/8, a moderately large aperture opening, which would normally deliver a limited depth-of-field. But because I was shooting with Elliot on the box, I swung the objective lens 8 degrees left (maximum “tilt”) and planted the plane of sharp focus right up the middle of this shot.

The result is a lot like what our eyes and brain construct when we look at a similar scene; we scan the relevant parts, i.e. the cascades and falls, and compile them into a composite image which feels like we’re seeing it all at once (though that’s a physical impossibility.) We disregard the periphery, mostly ’cause we don’t care about it in the moment. You’ll notice that both the left and right edges of this shot are wildly out of focus, despite the fact that the middle is sharp, from the foreground leaves to the background trees.

That’s “tilt-shift” for ya – an engineered algorithm for what our brains do every second we’re awake.

Pardon my getting specific here, but I’ve had requests for more detailed explanations of how I do what I do, and if you’re interested in knowing, I’m interested in telling you.

My apologies to Bash-Bish Falls, which deserves a bit more un-deconstructed reverence than I’ve given it here. It’s an overpowering place, more than worthy of a visit if you’re in the Northeast. But go there off-season, and avoid weekends. It’s accessible enough to be over-run on any weekend when the weather doesn’t suck really hard.