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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

Landscape Colours: The Subtle Beauty of a Waterfall in Blue & White

How does a waterfall make you feel? When you see a waterfall, what do you aim to capture? To one photographer, it was the idea of yūgen, a Japanese aesthetic that refers to subtle, profound, mysterious beauty. He shares how he expressed this idea by creating an image steeped in blue and white tones, using no more than slow shutter technique and basic adjustments in post-processing. (Reported by: Yoshio Shinkai, Digital Camera Magazine)

This is part of a series of articles where landscape photographers share how they approached a scene and composed, shot and post-processed their images to bring out the beauty of the scene’s colours.

EOS 5DS R/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 47mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/16, 10 sec)/ ISO 100/ WB: Tungsten
Location: Naena Falls, Niigata Prefecture, Japan


The inspiration behind the shot

The whiter the cascade of a waterfall, the more powerful it looks, and such intensity looks especially breathtaking when viewed up close. You see the white water droplets dance up from the waterfall pool and then drift off to become soft white mist, adding graceful, mysterious beauty to the scene.

When the scene is shot and processed to represent colours faithfully, you don’t really feel the mood created by the mist. That’s because faithful colours can make it harder to bring out the subtle gradations that give the mist its unique feel.

I wanted the final image to bring to mind the beauty of the bokashi (graduated colour printing) technique in Japanese art. To achieve that, I shot a long exposure to capture the flow of the waterfall as a smooth, silky stream and added blue tones to bring out the ambience created by the water. The result is a picture of yūgen—beauty that is subtle, mysterious, graceful, and profound.


Step 1: Take a slow shutter shot to form the base

A waterfall may look impressive, but the mood and emotion it conveys in a photograph depends on how you decide to shoot it.

1/1500 sec

Using a fast shutter speed to freeze the flow of water brings out the power of the waterfall, but the image looks less quiet and serene.

10 sec

I chose to use a 10 second slow shutter to smoothen the water flow and mist.

Pro tip: Avoid blown highlights—they affect your next step

I was very careful to avoid blown highlights in the water. In the next step, we are going to “add” colour to the waterfall using basic colour adjustments. The colour won’t stick in areas with blown highlights.

More tips and ideas for photographing waterfalls in:
Photographing Waterfalls: To Freeze or to Blur?
Designing and Composing Waterfall Photographs: A Visual Approach


Step 2: During post-processing, add blue tones

I post-processed my image in Adobe Lightroom Classic, but any post-processing software that allows you to adjust colour temperature, tint, and tones should work.

To bring out the ambience that I envisioned, the tones of the waterfall and surrounding rocks were the most important. Here are the adjustments that I did.

1. Change the camera profile and WB to something that enhances blues

I selected the ‘Camera Landscape’ profile. This corresponds to the Picture Style (Landscape) profile on Canon cameras, which plays up the blue tones in the image. Then, I set the white balance to ‘Tungsten’, which increases the blues in the image.

Learn more about what you can do just by playing with the white balance and Picture Style in:
How to Render Colours with the White Balance Correction Function
3 Steps to Creating Custom Photos With Picture Style

2. Reduce whites and highlights

The next crucial adjustment that I did was to reduce the whites and the highlights. This is because the blue tones that you "add" won't show up as well in areas with blown highlights.

3. Apply other adjustments as necessary

Finally, I made adjustments to the contrast, exposure, highlights and blacks until I got the results that I wanted. These depend on your image and your personal preference. And that was it!




Hoping to spend more time shooting and less time editing? Get inspired by these images, which were achieved via just purposeful shooting decisions and basic post-processing adjustments:
How I Nailed the Shot: A Tiny Green Bird Among Beautiful Pink Bokeh
A Dazzling Golden-Blue Sky at Sunset: In-Camera and Post-Processing
RAW Image Processing: How to Bring Out the Blue in Blue Hour Photos

New to post-processing? Canon’s free Digital Photo Professional software is a good start for basic adjustments such as this. Find out more in:
5 Essential Adjustments to Do with Digital Photo Professional

Also see:
Getting Started in Landscape Photography: 5 Things to Know
Landscape Colours: Composing a Romantic Pink & Purple Seascape


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Yoshio Shinkai

Yoshio Shinkai

Born in Nagano in 1953, Shinkai started travelling throughout Japan with a large-format camera to shoot landscape photography in 1979. Currently, he shoots for a wide range of media, ranging from posters and calendars to travel brochures and photography magazines.