Stars Falling on Havasu Falls: Photo of the Week

I can’t remember who it was that told me that I needed to see Havasu Falls, but whoever it was I owe a massive thanks. My hike into the Havasu Canyon has been the highlight of the month without a doubt, and one I will surely write more about in the future. The twenty mile round trip hike is as rewarding as any in America. After slicing through a narrow canyon one arrives at a river of neon green/blue water which dances along the valley through a numbers of falls. Havasu Falls, which takes its name from the canyon it tumbles from, is the most famous cascade, and the one photographed below. I shot this photo under one of the most beautiful starry nights I have ever seen. For you this photo captures a scene. For me, looking back at this night, this photo captures a mood, a feeling, and a memory that is as precious as any piece of art.

Havasu Falls

How I Got This Shot

This was my first ever attempt at star photography. It’s something I’d been wanting to try for a while but had been waiting for the right situation. To get a shot like this you really need to the right conditions: no clouds, far from a big human settlement, and it doesn’t hurt if you’re at a little bit of elevation as well.

This was a little bit trickier shot that you might think. I basically set up the tripod and shot a bunch of images at really high ISO to be able to check the sharpness. I then opened the shutter for a 700 second exposure, nearly 12 minutes, using the bulb mode on the camera and a remote trigger. Since I don’t have an external flash, I used my simple LED flashlight to light the waterfalls. If I hadn’t done that you wouldn’t see the falls at all. Using a speedlite would have done much better or a much bigger area light would have made it a whole lot easier.

There wasn’t a touch of “photoshop” done to this photo. The trails in the sky are the stars in the sky. They show motion since the earth is rotating, hence why their trails are curved. The only minor thing I did was reduce the noise on the bottom half of the image which was caused by the mist from the falls I assume.

What do you think? Does it look too fake? Do you love it?

This photo was shot on a Canon 60d at f/4.5 with a 700 second exposure time, the ISO was set at 200.

Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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  1. Yes, the bottom of the falls do look fake. The rest of the photo is great though!

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    • Andrea… google Havasu Falls. You’ll find that despite the fact it looks fake, that part of the falls, and the colour, is as real as it gets 😀

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  2. Using a flash would have frozen the water and ruined the shot. Best to purchase a high power torch. Also to minimize noise and improve the overall shot. Take maybe 10 or more photos at 90 second exposures and then layer. Much better results are promised. Good first attempt though

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    • Thanks for the tips Matt! I didn’t think of layering a bunch of images… was worried it would get a bit of funky look.

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  3. Well I like the silky look of waterfalls at the bottom – this is probably due to long exposure. My focus goes to waterfall, i have to really concetrate to see the star trails if you know what i mean:) What lens did you use?

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  4. On my site I have a photo of the Southern Cross over Lapostolle winery, made up of 89 separate 90 second exposures. There is a Russian night photographer who sometimes makes night photos of several hundred photos of 90 second exposures. With Canon sensors anything over 90 seconds can degrade the file. I mainly use a Phase One camera and that can do one hour exposures pretty well

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  5. I’m familiar with what Havasu falls looks like even though I haven’t been there myself. While it does look fake fortunately the colors are true.

    I’m not sure a flash would have given you the desired results but I am no expert on this type of photography.

    The stars don’t look curved to me, they look like they are ni motion consistent with the Earth’s rotation 🙂

    I just wished SLRs didn’t have to be so super complicated.

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  6. I love the picture, and really appreciate you explaining how you did it. Here in the Canary Islands we have some of the clearest night skies – at least out of places which are easy to access! – there are observatories on both Tenerife & La Palma – which is a long way round to explain that I tried this type of night photography last year, with terrible results, and you have inspired me to try again!!

    I much prefer this to the way I know it would have looked with HDR. I don’t like HDR when it means a photo looks fake. If it depicts what the eye can see (as opposed to the limitations of a camera) then fine, but, well, if I want something arty-farty then I’ll learn to paint I think.

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    • Linda – Give what Matt said a try. Take a lot of 90 second exposures and then place them together in photoshop later. I think you’ll get sharper results 😀 Have fun out there!

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  7. Taking shots like that is really hard! Good job, it’s beautiful!

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