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Even if you don’t shoot landscape photography, photos of waterfalls with the smooth water and glassy appearance are awesome. The gist to achieving this, and I do stand corrected if I have this wrong, is as follows:
However, I personally don’t own ND or polarizer filters. These type of filters are required for long exposures during the day, so that your shutter speeds are slow enough, possibly one minute or more to get that misty look. On top of which, you have to get the exposure right, which requires a bit of math and experimentation. ND filters block out the light in terms of stops.
So taking long exposures during the day is an involved process, especially if you want to create that smooth, silky water effect in-camera. But, is there a way to simulate this effect in Photoshop or other post-processing software? Yes there is! It does require that you take multiple shots. I’m not advocating that this technique in post editing is a replacement to going out and achieving long exposures out in the field, far from it. But, I hope this technique may serve as a stepping stone or inspiration to go out and capture silky waters, clouds etc., in-camera.
This article will demonstrate how you can achieve a similar result by taking a bunch of photos in continuous mode without using any filters or a tripod. Although, I would recommend you use a tripod.
First, I’ll demonstrate this effect using a manual method in Photoshop CS6 (standard version). There is an automated way to do this with the Stack Mode feature, which I believe is in Photoshop CC. If you have previous versions of Photoshop, the Stack Mode feature is only available in extended versions, not standard, unfortunately. However, Gimp has this Stack Mode feature and it’s free. Then, I will compare the manual method in Photoshop with Affinity Photo, using Live Stacks. I was really impressed with this feature.
Let’s begin. On the day I took these images, I was pressed for time. So I took a series of shots in continuous mode, and handheld the camera while I focused on this part of a small river. I would recommend that you use a tripod and give yourself some time. It will be easier to align the images later.
You will need to load your images as layers into one document in Photoshop, as follows:
Go up to the Menu Bar > File > Scripts > Load Files into Stack. As I didn’t use a tripod, I selected all the layers to align them. Go to Auto-Align under Edit. As you can see, Photoshop had its work cut out trying to align the images.
Now that the layers are stacked on top of each other. Start at the bottom and leave this layer at 100%, go to second layer above and reduce the opacity by 50%(100÷2=50). Continue with the next layer and reduce the opacity by 33%(100÷3=33).
Therefore, depending on the amount of layers you have, and where they come in the stack, divide this number into 100. So if you had 30 images, the opacity for the top layer in the stack will be 3% (100÷30=3). Remember the bottom layer is always 1=100%. What this is doing is averaging out the layers. This may sound complicated, but in practice, it’s more straightforward. Although it is a bit more tedious than the automated way.
I have been keeping a close eye on Serif’s Affinity Photo. So I took the plunge and purchased it for (€39) $44 USD. That was a discounted offer. At such an affordable price, I was curious to see how this software performs and what it can do.
In Affinity Photo, there is a Live Stacks feature which is similar to Stack Mode in Photoshop. It was easy and simple to use, and the process was fast.
Go to File > New Stack. The pop up dialog box appears where you select your images. Make sure Automatically Align Images box is ticked. Click Ok. This takes a couple of seconds. It defaults to Median in the Live Stack Group, but scroll up to the next one and this is Mean. That’s the one you want.
The cool thing about this feature is when you scroll through each of the different stack modes, it shows the different results live.
When I compared the two results from Photoshop and Affinity Photo, I could see no obvious difference, with the exception that I had to crop the image of the river more in Photoshop, whereas the auto alignment in Affinity Photo meant I didn’t lose much of the image at all.
In my examples, I didn’t use a tripod. I would recommend using one. I also took only a series of 8-10 shots. I would recommend taking at least 15 or more.
I found this technique interesting and fun, and I am now inspired to go out and take images of waterfalls. The good thing about this technique is if you don’t have ND or polarizing filters, it doesn’t prevent you from going out and taking shots of waterfalls. Then when you get back to your computer, you can create your own silky, smooth effect.
Let’s see some of your examples below.