Getting the Shot: Shutter, Exposure and Post-Processing

Author: Michael Greene

IMG_0781-McCloud-Creek-2-FLAT-copy-2-blog3This  capture is of the McCloud River located in the Trinity-Shasta National Forest and this tutorial is about how I crafted the finished product. After a notoriously dry winter, the watersheds in Northern California were running low, especially for the season. For this shot, the lack of water actually worked to my advantage as a massive flow would have made the scene either too dangerous to capture or less aesthetically pleasing.

A short down climb to a precarious, yet relatively safe ledge was necessary for this shot, which was photographed around 10 am on a cloudy morning. I used a circular polarizer to reduce the glare in the water as well as the foliage. During processing, I hand blended for dynamic range using three successive shots at F/16 and ISO 50, which were taken in manual mode. F/16 is my go to aperture setting for my wide angle lens as it gives me the best depth field while retaining the resolution comparable to some of the larger aperture settings.

ISO 50 was selected because I was looking to achieve specific shutter speeds for my picture. The three shutter speeds used on my Canon camera were: 1/13, .3, and .8. The middle exposure, which I used as the base for my image, encompassed most of the rocks and forest as well as a portion of the water. The 1/13 of a second exposure was used primarily for the highlights beneath the small falls and rapids where clipping usually occurs due to the concentrated and the swifter moving portions of the water.


The longest exposure was for the darkest parts of the sculpted rock most notably in the foreground. Processing was completed using Lightroom 6 and Photoshop CC 2015. Once my initial RAW edits were completed, the images were imported in PS, stacked on top of one another in layers and then hand blended to achieve proper dynamic range.

For me, the capture of a scene like this is mostly intuitive as creating pictures like this was the reason I first got serious about photography over 10 years ago. Processing usually requires more work and for this image it involved some trial and error as I originally tried to edit the picture using only two exposures. (This may be possible with some of the newer digital cameras with better sensors, but my camera is over 6 years old) If this type of photography interests you, but you don’t feel comfortable with the technical aspects of capture – keep practicing it will become more natural over time and with repetition. Happy shooting!

Michael Greene is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops and an avid nature photographer.