Spot Lighting Works on Rapids

It’s great when everything comes together and you get that perfect amount of light coming through the clouds right on the spot you want it to. It never seems to happen when you want it to but every now and then the heavens smile on us. Well this was one of those moments where everything just kinda clicked, maybe it was just right place at the right time or maybe it was a reward for climbing up a cliff face. Who knows.

Rapids are a lot of fun to work with because you photograph them many different ways. You can use a fast shutter or a slow shutter, you can go tight and show just the water or really wide and show everything. You can go high and look down or get low and level with the river. Each way show another perspective which makes it fun. The two big things I look for is good light and a good anchor point. Now I don’t like using the word anchor because it gets used way to much with landscapes and often times those anchors suck but with fast moving water you need some sort of spot for the viewers eye to relax against because all that movement in the water makes it hard to look at the image for too long. Light is the obvious one since every good image needs good light but it’s always good to remember that element. Keep in mind also that everyone does long exposure moving water shots so try and be creative with yours.

Images Captured with Nikon D750, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Working the Canyon Light

I love working in canyons. The lighting is always interesting because the walls force light where you don’t expect it to be and as the sun moves across the sky it keeps changing lighting up new areas. The contrast between these areas can make for some amazing images. One spot I have spent a good deal of time this year is the Bear Trap Canyon which is part of the Madison River. It runs south to north from Ennis Lake to the Madison Plateau between the Gallatin National Forest, Madison Range and Lee Metcalf Wilderness. Needless to say it’s not the most accessible place in Montana.

When I talk about the contrast in the light a lot of it shows between the shadows and the highlights. Often times a feeling emerges from the coldness of the shadows and the warmth of the light. It’s a lot of fun to play with either with a tight composition or a wide one. One important note though. If you plan to work in a canyon where there is this much dynamic range in light be sure NOT to include any sky. That extremely bright sky will result in blown out highlights. It will also destroy that mood that the canyon creates.

Images Captured with Nikon D750, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

More Light Painting Ideas

Old haunts always present themselves with new challenges. Often it is the challenge of trying to come up with something new. This is Bear Trap Canyon where the Madison Dam is located and forms Ennis Lake. The Hydroelectric dam was built in the canyon back in the early 1900’s Today it has become a common spot for fisherman to come and fish the pool beneath the dam as the giant browns get stuck as they head upstream towards the lake. The canyon, being so close to Ennis Lake, has become a favorite for weekend travelers to camp and enjoy the water.

Bear Trap Canyon Before

I went there for a slightly different purpose. Having fished the dam before, not really impressed, I knew the area was beautiful with the right clouds. Sadly my luck didn’t hold out and the clouds blew away. It didn’t stop me. With the D4, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar Digital Film, I used the natural contour of the canyon to capture its beauty. Lately I have been doing a lot with Camera Raw and this is another example of just that.


Canyons are naturally dark places. The light moves through the canyon and throughout the day most of the canyon is in shadow. Well with that in mind I played around with bringing out those areas in shadow. The most important area was the sky. If you notice it kind of sucked. Clouds gone, not great light. By using the gradient tool and just moving down the highlight slider and the temperature slider I was able to bring back that blue. The rest was just moving the light around where I wanted your eye to go.

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