5 tips for shooting waterfalls

April  9, 2012

Well it’s waterfall season in the area I live in, Northwest Arkansas. For most locations in the United States the waterfall season will be in the springtime, just like in Arkansas. Whether it’s melting snow or April showers that cause them, waterfalls are one of the most sought after photos for landscape photographers . Typically a picture of a waterfall shows the serenity of the water as a beautiful silky smooth flow downward either over a ledge or cascading over rocks. On the other hand, you may want to show the power of the water by stopping the flow in mid air. Here’s some tips on getting the best pictures.

1. To make a silky flow picture you have to make a long exposure. Exposures of closer to one second or longer are needed to make a good picture of this kind. When photographing waterfalls try different shutter speeds to make sure you’re not missing out on different effects. Just take your time and make sure that you are getting all of the photos you want.

2. You will need a tripod to hold the camera steady. I’ve know photographers who have a steady hand, but no one can hold the camera in a stationary position for several seconds. If you are going to buy a tripod that you will use for waterfalls, consider that you typically have to do some hiking or walking to get to these locations. Keeping that in mind, you’ll want a tripod that is steady but is lightweight and easy to carry. A good carrying case or strap allowing you to carry on your back or shoulder is valuable when hiking.

3. The time of day that the photo is taken is one of the most important things to remember. In order to get a slow shutter speed, you’ll have to minimize the light that comes into your camera. The best time of day to do this is early morning, late afternoon or during a cloudy or overcast day when light is more scarce. You probably won’t be able to slow the action down shooting at noon on a bright sunny day unless you use some darkening filters to help reduce the light in the camera.

4. To help reduce light using filters, I can think of a couple options. If you are a landscape photographer, I would imagine that you already have a polarizing filter. Putting these on, works just like sunglasses and will darken the light and if you already have one, there’s no additional cost. However, the best filter to have on during bright days is a neutral density filter. These filters are colorless and available in different densities. They filter the light to allow you take slower pictures, even at the brightest part of the day.

5. As far as setting your aperture and ISO settings, they are secondary to the shutter speed in the equation. To achieve a slow shutter speed, I usually set my camera to aperture priority and my aperture to the highest aperture (f22 for example) and the lowest ISO (200 for example). That along with the use of either a polarizing or neutral density filter, and then shooting at the right time of the day, this should give me a long desired exposure. I modify the speed by changing the aperture. You could also shoot in shutter priority and it will work the same way, just changing the speed of the exposure.

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Top Photo: f/8, Shutter speed 1/160

Bottom Photo: f/22, Shutter speed 1/8

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