Debre Libanos Waterfalls

by John Downey

Craig Corl recently posted thoughts on HDR, noting the advantages of the technique, short of over-processing images to the telltale overcooked saturation and detail.  To that end, I worked this waterfall image, using Photomatix Pro’s ‘tone compressor’ instead of the usual ‘details enhancer.’  The difference in light values between the orange light of the sun at the edge of the mountainside and the dark patch right above the waterfall exceeded about ten stops – impossible to render on a single frame, even with in-camera contrast at its lowest setting.  Enter HDR to compress the light values and render the detail as much as naturally possible.  Following HDR, a lot of masking was needed to back off oversaturation in the sky and increase contrast in the midtones.  I left working on it for an hour or so to let the eyes rest.  Similar to  beer tasting, you can’t tell the difference after a while…  When I looked at it again, I realized it was a bit flat.  Last adjustment – lighten the falls a bit to draw the eye in to the light-dark contrast around the water.

The second waterfall is approximately 10m below the one above and is about 30m high.  There was no place to safely mount a tripod, so I layed flat on the precipice and hand-held the camera at 1/4sec.  Not too bad.  As an aside, there are a pair of birds above the desk here in the hotel as I write this.  Must have followed us from Addis.

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