Waterfall Photography – From View Camera to Smartphone

Brandywine Falls, Cuyahoga Valley National Park – 4×5 Sinar F View Camera

I made the photograph above of Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park on February 19, 1991 using a 4×5-inch Sinar F view camera, a 150mm Computar lens, and a sheet of 4×5-inch Fujichrome Provia 100 color transparency film. A single sheet of 4×5-inch film cost about $4, including processing, and I scanned the film on an Epson V700 flatbed scanner to create a digital TIFF file that was edited in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to create the image shown above. I carried the Sinar F view camera, several lenses, film holders, filters, Pentax digital spot meter, a cable release, and other accessories in a large Kelty backpack, and the camera was mounted on a heavy-duty Bogen tripod topped by a 3-way pan-and-tilt tripod head. The tripod and Kelty backpack weighed more than 20 pounds, and as I carried them around I was constantly reminded of Edward Weston’s comment that “nothing more than 500 yards from the car is photogenic.” It took about 20 minutes to assemble the Sinar F camera, compose and focus the image, which was viewed upside down and reversed from right to left, meter the scene, set the shutter speed and f-stop on the lens, insert the 4×5-inch film holder, cock the shutter, pull the film holder slide, expose the film, replace the slide, and disassemble and repack the camera. Later that day, I unloaded the exposed sheet film (in the dark) into an empty film box, delivered it to my local color lab to be processed, and collected the processed sheets of film the next day.            

Brandywine Falls, Cuyahoga Valley National Park – iPhone 11 Pro

Fast forward 29 years to January 23, 2020, when I made the photo shown above from the same viewpoint, using my new iPhone 11 Pro smartphone. I handheld the iPhone, which weighs about 5.6 ounces, and viewed the image, right side up, on a state-of-the-art 5.8-inch OLED glass screen with a resolution of 2436×1125 pixels. The iOS 13 operating system in the iPhone 11 Pro, which can perform about 1 trillion computations per second, took more than a dozen virtually simultaneous exposures, processed and blended the resulting HDR images into a composite photograph, displayed the result on the screen, and saved the image onto the iPhone’s camera roll, all within a fraction of a second. The digital image created by the iPhone 11 Pro has almost twice the dynamic range (about 10 f/stops) of the Fujichrome Provia 100 color transparency film (about 5 f/stops), but much lower resolution ( 3024×4032 pixels vs. 13,000×16,300 pixels for the 4×5-inch sheet film, scanned at 3300 pixels-per-inch). 

Brandywine Falls Detail – Apple Camera App

I took the photo shown above on January 15, using my iPhone 11 Pro. The iPhone’s camera app controlled the f/stop, shutter speed and ISO setting, which the EXIF data in Lightroom displayed as f/1.8, 1/150th second, and ISO 32. The 1/150th second shutter speed selected by the iPhone’s camera app was much too fast for my liking, and rendered the  falling water frozen in space. I wanted a much softer effect, with the water appearing similar to that displayed in my 1991 view camera photo. I did not record the f/stop or shutter speed I used in the Sinar F image, but I was happy with the results and took refuge in Minor White’s remark “For the technical – the camera was faithfully used.” 

Brandywine Falls Detail, Spectre App

For the photo shown above I also used my iPhone 11 Pro, but switched from the Apple camera app to Spectre Camera, an app designed for taking long exposures from Lux Optics, who also developed the iOS camera app Halide Camera. In early December, Apple awarded the AI photography app Spectre Camera the title of iPhone App of the Year, as part of its first annual App Store Best Apps and Games awards. Spectre costs about $3 from the iOS App Store.  

It’s important to note that Spectre does not take a single long exposure, but a burst of dozens (hundreds?) of very fast exposures, which are then blended together using AI computational photography techniques to create an image that appears to be a single long exposure. The only user setting is the duration, which can be set from 3 seconds, which I used for the photo above, to 9 seconds. This photo was handheld, though the app requests that you hold the iPhone as still as possible during the exposure. Spectre does an excellent job of preserving the sharpness of non-moving sections of the scene, such as the rocks in a waterfall photo, while rendering the moving subjects, in this case cascading water, in a diffuse way. The blending is not perfect – if you look closely you can see some “stair-stepping” artifacts in the top sections of the waterfall, but it’s done more effectively than other long-exposure apps, such as Slow Shutter Cam.

Brandywine Falls – Lightroom Camera App

It should also be pointed out that you can use a tripod mount with your iPhone and  a camera app such as Lightroom or Camera + 2 to take a true long exposure, as shown in the photo above, in which I used the Adobe Lightroom camera app and an exposure of 2 seconds. There are no blending artifacts in this image because a single exposure was used, and the iPhone was mounted on my Gitzo tripod to eliminate any camera movement.   

Regretfully, my Winter Photography Workshop scheduled for today, January 25, at The Holden Arboretum has been postponed due to the warm weather and steady rain we’ve experienced in the last couple of days. We have rescheduled this workshop for Saturday, February 22 – let’s hope that colder, snowy weather occurs prior to this date. Meanwhile, if you would like more information on waterfall photography check out my book, A Photographer’s Guide to Ohio – Volume 1, which includes a chapter on waterfall photography and detailed information on fifteen of my favorite Ohio waterfalls (another five Ohio waterfalls are profiled in Volume 2).  

I feel very privileged to have witnessed the profound changes in camera technology that have taken place during the past few decades, and I look forward to what the next few years will bring. In the meantime, whether you use a view camera, a Nikon/Canon/Sony digital SLR/mirrorless camera, or your smartphone, I wish you all success with your waterfall photography, and may great light accompany your travels.               






This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Hey Ian. Your site just popped up on my screen. Those are great shots of Brandywine falls. I got some great ones of it iced up in 2018. Got the same thing at the old power dam. Your comments about the Iphone 11 may cause me to buy one. headed back to Ohio this weekend. May see you at the Beaver Pond. Lots of sighting of the River Otters.
    Take care.

  2. Hi Lonnie,

    Happy New Year from Ohio, where the weather is dreary, although we’ve been getting mild winter weather this year with very little snow. I would be happy to meet you on the boardwalk at the Beaver Pond if you would like to chat about the new iPhone 11 Pro, which has a great camera system. You can call my cell phone at (330)-283-1696 or home/office at (330)-920-7401.

    Ian Adams

  3. Ian, this brings up an interesting conundrum. My very old but once serviceable Nikon 18-35mm zoom has given up the ghost. I was eyeing the replacement lens, the f4. It’s cost is about $1000. This is a lens that would be used sparingly but surely enjoyed. For roughly that price I could have a new iPhone 11 pro that would be in constant use, every day. The Nikkor lens would last many years but the iPhone would only be used for 4-5 at most. You pointed out that the best camera is the one you have with you.

  4. Hi Jack,

    Hope you are doing well in this mild but dreary winter weather.

    A new iPhone 11 Pro is the equivalent of a Nikon 13-56mm in coverage, is much more fun to use, and unless you need to make giant prints the image quality is more than adequate. You can share your iPhone photos immediately – ever tried to post a photo directly from your Nikon??? As you point out, you will use the iPhone 11 Pro constantly, every day, and it only weighs 5.6 ounces. This is a no-brainer – buy the iPhone 11 Pro!


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