Seattle-based fine-art photographer Tim Greyhavens was commissioned to create an image of a waterfall more than four stories tall to fit in the open stairwell of an apartment building in Seattle. It required a continuous image that would flow from the top to the bottom of the stairwell, which is approximately 40’ tall and no more than 6’ wide. Greyhavens searched for a very tall, but very skinny waterfall and after visiting three locations, he ended up with the ideal site, the Elowah Falls, on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.
The Elowah Falls is a huge, beautiful falls with contrasting green, yellows and browns in the background. It is at the end of a narrow valley, and there is a large outcropping about 100 yards from the falls that allowed an almost unobstructed view from top to bottom.
Greyhavens worked with a local printing firm called StellaColor, which print large banners for the sides of stadiums and office buildings. The company is also an expert in unusual installations. They use dye-sub printers that provide great color stability and longevity, and the print can actually be washed if it got fingerprints or other dirt on it over time.
The photographer says:
Photographing moving water is always tricky because you never know exactly what the exposure will look like until you see the image. I knew I wanted the final print to capture the beauty of the scene but also to suggest the power of the moving water. From past experience, I knew that a high shutter speed would not show the water’s movement and that too long of an exposure would remove details that I thought would be necessary for viewers to feel like water was cascading before them.
Since I had plenty of data cards with me, I took about two dozen different series of details at various focal lengths and exposures. Initially I selected 24 individual images to combine in Photoshop’s Photomerge function. This automated function is an amazing time-saver, and within a few hours it gave me a general idea of how the final print might appear. I spent several days playing with various combinations of images and exposures.
One of the oddities of this project is that no one would see all of it in normal proportions. On the upper stair landing one could see about the top 15’ of the image, on other landings another 10-12’ would be visible, but only by looking straight up or down would you see the entire image.
After thinking about it from that perspective I decided to add images taken with faster shutter speeds at the top, where more natural light would fall on the print, and add images with gradually slower speeds toward the bottom. This matched my experience at the falls, where the water fell in big, slower moving globules as it first came over the cliff and then spread into a fine, watery mist at the bottom.
It took another few days to tweak the blending between the various layers (working with an 8GB file tends to slow down even the best computer), but in the end I had exactly what I’d envisioned from the start. Printing and installation of the final print came off without any major problems.