Photographing Waterfalls

April 2016 Article

My favorite photography is nature and shooting waterfalls with all their natural beauty makes for a great day in the outdoors. Whether it is a high rushing fall or a small trickling stream the results can be amazing if you know a few techniques for capturing their spectacular beauty. Many of us have falls within a short drive of where we live but simply don’t know they exist. Talking with friends or searching the Internet may help you to locate some nearby falls.

Once you have decided where to go, you will need to coordinate your trip with the weather as it’s always a factor in nature and landscape photography. I find cloudy or overcast days work very well for most nature photography but if you are shooting waterfalls it is of even greater importance. The sun will easily blow out the highlights of the water and can give a harsh glare that will ruin your shots. Since many waterfalls are surrounded by high rocks or cliffs or can have large trees it is important to anticipate these factors and how they might affect your photographs. You are trying to capture the falls in a softer lighting and being aware ahead of time will provide for a more pleasant day. It is always best to do outdoor photography in the early morning or evening instead of the full afternoon for optimal lighting conditions.
waterfall_01Whenever photographing moving water your two most important pieces of equipment, aside from your camera and lens, will be a good tripod and a remote trip. It is vital that you purchase a well-built tripod. I am a fan of Manfrotto tripods but there are many tripods that will serve you well. Remote trips will allow you to take your shots without touching the camera that might introduce movement and cause slight blurring to your photographs. They come in wired or wireless models and while you will spend a little more for a good wireless model it is worth it. Since photographing waterfalls often requires you to use a much slower shutter speed to get the effect you want it is also a good idea to get a neutral density filter for your lens. I use a variable neutral density filter allowing for a larger range of lighting without switching between filters. Of course you can always use a very low ISO setting and stop your aperture down to f-20 or lower and achieve some great shots if the conditions are right.

Since shooting near a waterfall can produce a mist in the air it is always a good idea to carry a lens cloth and a towel for drying your camera if it gets misted on. I often carry a towel regardless so I always have something to through over my camera when hiking to help protect it from the elements. One other item I discovered a few years ago is a camera harness made by Cotton Carrier for keeping my camera attached and safe. It is annoying having the camera swinging from around your neck not to mention dangerous for your lens.

Now that we covered some of the basics let talk about actually taking some photographs. The most common question is what shutter speed do I need to use. While there is no one definitive answer for this question I normally start with a shutter speed of around 1 second. This will produce the softness of the water and get you close to what you are looking for. You can adjust your shutter speed up or down from there to achieve optimal results.

Secondly and just as important is having the correct ISO setting and aperture setting. Since our goal is to stop the water’s movement using an ISO setting of 100 is a good starting point. It will also help to eliminate noise in the photographs. The f-stop can vary greatly depending on lighting and what filter you have on your lens. I usually start by setting my aperture for maximize focus, usually around f/8 to f/10 to see what shutter speeds that will require. Again all these settings are just a starting point and may vary greatly depending on you lighting conditions and lens filter. I often shoot at f/16 to f/22 with a 1-3 second window and get some amazing results. Never be afraid to experiment with your camera’s settings. I hope you find this short article informative and it gets you started in the right direction. Always feel free to send questions you might have.

Paul Hayes