Photography Tips: How To Take Waterfall Photos

MacKenzie Falls, Australia

MacKenzie Falls, Australia [Exposure: f/7.1, 1 Sec, ISO 50]

If you search the Internet for keywords such as “waterfall photos” what you will get are a bunch of photos, which shows several waterfalls with a silky smooth effect. This is not something that we can normally see with our naked eye; but yet they look great on the photos. So the thumb-rule for taking waterfall photos is to capture that silky smooth effect by using slow shutter speed. But how to do it and how more importantly how to successfully capture a good waterfall photo? Below are some important waterfall photography tips & camera settings for digital photography.

There are several aspects to it, so let’s take one at a time and understand them in deeper detail.

Camera Settings

Best camera setting for waterfall photography is the Manual mode. My personal favorite is Shutter Speed Priority Mode though. In this mode you select your desired shutter speed and the camera chooses an appropriate aperture & ISO. However, often a Neutral Density filter is required to utilize full advantage of this mode.

Shutter speed

Shutter speed is most important setting in waterfall photography. When capturing a silky smooth effect, you will need to allow a lot of water to flow through while the exposure is being made. But there are some rules to the amount of water that you should allow to flow by and how that can affect the final composition. If the water is flowing very slowly then it is imperative to reduce the shutter speed to something like 1 and 1/2 seconds or even 2 or 4 seconds, again if the water is flowing too fast, try increasing the shutter speed to something such as 1/2 a second.

It is always best to take a few test shots @ different shutter speed and see how the pictures are coming through and then adjust the final settings accordingly.

Aperture

Next is the aperture. When capturing a shot with a longer shutter speed, it is imperative to reduce the aperture; else the picture has a chance of getting washed out. Try with f/11 or f/16 and take a few test shots. However when reducing the aperture don’t try too small a f-stop else the final composition will not be sharp because of lens diffraction.

ISO

Third most important thing is the ISO. ISO is the sensitivity of the sensor to light. When setting a slower shutter speed, it is imperative that the ISO is set to a lower value. Set your camera to the lowest ISO possible. Some cameras can go down to ISO 100 or even 80 and that is good. But if your camera cannot go to less than 200 don’t fret, it is good enough.

Tripod

Waterfall photography is a long exposure photography. A tripod is an integral tool to have in order to use slower shutter speeds. Choose a sturdy tripod that can carry the weight of your camera and lens and has adjustable feet to stand firmly in water if required.

ND filter

A Neutral Density (ND) filter or Variable Neutral Density (VND) filters is an absolute must when shooting in tricky lighting conditions. Usually waterfalls are located in places where there is a lot of natural light. Some part of the composition could be brightly illuminated while the other part is not, requiring you to stop the excess brightness to enable using a long exposure. ND filters (and specifically Graduated ND Filters) are used to stop the excess light. Buy a thin one if you’re using a full format 35mm camera so that the problem vignetting can be avoided.

Remote shutter release

Even if a camera is mounted on a tripod, when you press the shutter release there is a minute amount of camera shake that is inevitable. That is enough to ruin your waterfall shot. Thus a remote shutter release is necessary if you’re into precision level photography.


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