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Colorful Cascades: An early idea for adding color to photographs applied to waterfalls.

I am not the run-out-and-get-the-latest-model type of guy. Usually, the only time a piece of gear is replaced is when it fails to function and percussive maintenance fails to produce positive results. Instead of buying the latest and greatest, I ask myself instead “What else can I get out of the gear I have?” Hold that thought …

While trying to make the transition from taking snapshots to taking pictures, I read about the history of photography. Most photo processing in the 1800’s was monochromatic. Herschel’s cyanotype was one of the fist color processes, which created a monochromatic blue version of an image. In the early 1900s, tinting or hand painting was used to add color to an image. Photographers also used a process involving layers of carbon tissue with pigmented gelatin on a paper base.

What caught my attention was the description of the earliest color photograph, taken by James Clerk Maxwell in 1861. He produced a color image of a tartan ribbon by having the ribbon photographed through red, blue and green filters, then recombining the images using transparencies into one color composite. This process became known as the additive color method, was used as a basis for the first commercial color process and is someting I can replicate in post processing ... so maybe something new???

Easy to understand, right? We live in an RGB world, and all the colors we see are combinations of different percentages of each of the primary colors. 100% of each produces white; 0% of each produces black; 39% red, 83% green, 79% blue produces a nice robin’s egg blue. All the colors in your picture of the family, the garden, a recent sunset are combinations of the three colors.

But what if the scene isn’t static? Everyone stays still while saying “Cheese!”, unless the wind is blowing your roses are still. Can you get something different by applying the idea of additive color to a waterfall? Sounded like fun, so out the door I went …

I knew in a waterfall or cascade the depth of the water at any particular point is never a constant. My idea was to take three images (with a long enough shutter to produce a bit of softness) about 2 seconds apart. In post processing, I would make one image 100% red, one 100% green, the last 100% blue, layer the images, and blend them.

The results were encouraging. I shot at a local reservoir and two different waterfalls. Single and Tri-Color images are below. While this is still a subject of discovery, there are a few lessons learned: stacking in the order of red, green, blue (on the bottom) is preferred; the waterfall needs to be flowing well; drag the shutter but keep it short; composition principles still count.

Let me know what you think! Especailly if you've been doing this for a while ... I wouldn't be surprised if I've "rediscovered" this method of post processing. Thanks!

Be well and stay safe.

Rochester Reservoir

Little Niagara Falls

Rattlesnake Creek Falls


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