This is a powerful image that takes me straight back to standing on the cliffs edge that summer afternoon. It had been raining in the Greater Sydney area for most of that weekend. The falls had plenty of water plummeting down, meeting the ocean below. I remember being quite obsessed over dramatic, wide angle scenes at the time. Naturally, after seeing Will Patino’s image of this place I was hit with a surge of inspiration. Throwing my camera bag in the boot, I made the 1.5hr drive south. Knowing that I wanted to find a unique angle of the falls, I departed quite early. This allowed me to scout the area for a good two hours before the light came come close to what you see in the final photograph. Creativity requires presence. If your mind is thrown into an overwhelming environment at least give it a chance to take it all in! As I’ve discovered the hard way, there’s no worse feeling than arriving hot, stressed and sweaty to a location you’ve never shot before. Especially when paired with unique conditions.
For the first hour upon arrival, I slowly edged my way south along the escarpment while using my phone camera to find possible compositions. The raw power of the ocean beneath me became ever so obvious. A pending sense of excitement with a dash of fear filled my chest. High, wispy clouds began to form in the western sky. It was at this moment that I knew the ocean itself would be a key focus of the final frame. I soon discovered a small alcove just in front of the waterfalls. It allowed me to physically see the streams journey downward, from cliffs edge to the furious ocean below. Just what I was looking for! Next came composing the actual image, which was somewhat difficult considering the circumstances. By tentatively leaning over the cliffs edge I was able to emphasize the waterfalls in the foreground, however this was somewhat impossible to manage with a tripod. The compromise was to take several images in quick succession, handheld (and blend them in post). Once I had an idea for the final image, it was simply a matter of waiting.
Test composition taken on phone camera
It’s during these moments that I find myself most present within the landscape. When waiting for the light to “happen” we are forced to observe the vista before us, slow down and take it all in. This can lead to more accurate assessments of the surrounding environment. A great tip that I’ll apply often when shooting wide angle scenes: After first composing an image, take a step back from the camera for a few minutes. Try to forget about it. Pretend it’s not even there! Then, when you feel ready, double check the composition. Little distractions become glaringly obvious, so adjust the frame accordingly. After all, wide angle scenes often rely on nailing these small nuances.
Vertigo was processed with a rough split complementary colour palette in mind. The chosen raw files were quite undersaturated (as seen below). By individually raising/lowering hue and saturation of specific colour channels, I was able to reach the target colour harmony. For example, the green foliage did not quite fit into the scheme. By entering the HSL tab in Adobe Camera Raw, I was able to desaturate the colour. The hue slider was then slightly shifted towards the left. Clouds in the upper portion of the composition were selected in photoshop and warmed up significantly. Split complementary colour harmonies appear frequently in seascape scenes such as this. Generally, I’ll make these types of colour adjustments early in my creative workflow.
Split Complementary colour harmony
Adobe Camera Raw – hue Adobe Camera Raw – saturation
The final scene is a combination of 3 raw files, shot handheld in rapid succession. The base image was photographed at F11, 1/125th, iso 100 at 16mm. The waterfalls were then blended in from a separate frame shot at 1/15th to slightly blur the water as it drifted to the ocean below. Finally, the sky was blended in from an image shot at 1/100th. I chose this shutter speed by pushing my histogram to the left. This saved the from clouds rendering as pure white.
Darker frame for sky blend. Shot at F11, 1/100th, iso 100.
Medium frame for general base image. Shot at F11, 1/125th, iso 100. The shorter & longer exposures when then manually blended into this frame.
Over-exposed image shot at F11, 1/15th, iso 100. This shutter speed was chosen to blur the falling water.
The images were then imported into photoshop and manually blended using various layer masks. I utilized photoshops “auto-align” feature which made this a surprisingly easy process. The man standing on the edge of the cliff was blended in from the sky exposure. At first, I removed him entirely from the composition as I felt he created tension between the various visual elements. However, he added a perfect sense of scale the final scene!
After a successful blend, I created a stamped layer in Photoshop and converted it to a smart object. This allowed me to open the file back up in Adobe Camera Raw (software similar to Adobe Lightroom) and make a few minor global changes, such as:
Dust spot removal
Saturation & Vibrance
Global colour balance
Global adjustments made to the base blend
Usually, I go very easy on these global adjustments and do most of my selective adjustments back in photoshop. For Vertigo, I utilized Tony Kuyper TK7 panel to make the following adjustments:
Selective contrast using levels/curves and a number of luminosity masks
Dodging and Burning
Blue hue adjustments in the sky using blue channel selection
Slight Orton effect
Slight clarity effect on person
Blue/cyan adjustments in ocean using channel selection
Mid tone contrast
Colour balance (warm highlights, cool shadows)
Finally, I added the finishing touches! This consisted of some controlled warping and removal of distracting elements (such as dust spots, branches, twigs, unwanted highlights etc). Colour/contrast adjustments were added after the image had been sharpened for web view. When out shooting I’ll visualise the type of photograph I’m after and attempt to bring it to life when back in the studio. My main desire is to bring back those significant emotions I felt when out shooting, then convey them to a wider audience.
BEHIND THE SCENES FOOTAGE
Vertigo serves as a reminder to the power of nature. Feeling the whitecaps beneath me smash into the escarpment was a unique experience. It was one of the first times I ventured out alone into a somewhat remote location, camera in hand. It’s an exciting feeling. However, as fun as it seems, safety must always be a priority. There is no good reason to risk your life for an image. If you have a nagging voice in your head, you should probably stop and listen to it. Always carry a PLB. Let a friend or relative know your plans. Give them a time you’re expecting to be back and contact them once safe to do so.