Photographing Waterfalls

Photographing Waterfalls

Waterfalls are some of the most captivating natural features you will ever find the opportunity to photograph. However, although they can look simply stunning, capturing the scene is not easy to do well. How do you avoid your photos being too dark? How do you deal with clipping in the water? How do you compose your photos to capture the authentic beauty of the scene?

Photographing waterfalls isn’t hard, but it does involve a lot of little tricks and techniques. This tutorial will focus on how to get that silky water effect and how to get the balanced light that helps bring out the contrast you usually find around waterfalls.

Blog

Brecon Beacons, Wales. 1 second at F8.

Required: wide angle zoom lens, polarizing filter, tripod

Waterfalls are usually found in tight canyons, so most of the time a wide angle zoom lens will be necessary. The polarizing filterBlog is good for at least three reasons: it eliminates reflections on the water/rocks, saturates the greens around the waterfall, and reduces the amount of light entering your lens. Most importantly though, you need a tripod to stabilize your camera for the long exposures.

Use a small aperture. This is necessary for two reasons: it helps you get a longer shutter and it helps keep everything in sharp focus. I recommend starting with f/16 and then going smaller if that doesn’t give you a slow enough shutter. Some photographers will tell you to always use the smallest aperture possible on your lens, but I avoid this because lenses usually lose sharpness at their smallest (and largest) apertures.

Blog

Taken at Mells Iron Works, Somerset, UK. 6 seconds at F14.

Use the lowest ISO speed on your camera. This also helps you get a longer shutter, but it has another benefit too: lower ISO speeds will produce less noise and capture more dynamic range. Since you’ll be using a long shutter speed, your image will be much more sensitive to noise, so a low ISO will help prevent that noise.

Blog

Taken at Brecon Beacons, Wales. 4 seconds at F13.

Start with a shutter speed of a few seconds. When photographing waterfalls, finding the right shutter speed involves a lot of experimentation, but a speed of 2 seconds is usually a good place to start. Be prepared to use shutter speeds ranging from 1 to 30 seconds.

Blog

Brecon Beacons, Wales. 5 seconds at f13.