If you’ve ever partaken in beautiful waterfall photography you’ll understand why people go back again and again and shoot them. When I lived in Victoria, Australia, I would take a trip for a day or a weekend and shoot many shots of Stevenson’s Falls. And if you are fortunate to live near the Rockies in Canada or American then you will have a fantastic time applying what I am about to show you through some handy techniques.
Here are some useful tips for getting beautiful waterfall shots…
One of the important aspects about waterfall photography is knowing the waterfall itself. Knowing what lighting conditions you are working with at each time of year and day and knowing what time you are going to get your best shot are the two best things to consider.
Lighting for waterfalls is best when it has just finished raining, such as when a storm has just passed. This will allow you to take advantage of the soft and dim light produced at these times to bring out the dramatic nature of the waterfall. When a waterfall is photographed at this time, it also means that the rocks, earth and green foliage will be particularly enhanced in colour. The water will be clearer, allowing you some fabulous waterfall photography.
Once you capture the waterfall with this ideal lighting, this is when a slower shutter speed is most beneficial. You’ll be able to gain a soft effect without the contrast of overhead direct sunlight.
There are a couple of successful tips to get two types of waterfall shots. We’ll tackle the first one in this article. The first is the soft smooth flowing effect of water; such as water looking like a blanket of silk over the rocks. If you want to get this look, set your shutter to a speed of 1 to 2 seconds. (This is where your filter light works best.) To get the right exposure at a 1 or 2 second shutter speed, set the aperture at an f stop of around f/22. You will notice that with these settings you’ll get a larger depth of field. The entire frame will be in focus this way, which is always a bonus.
If you find you have too much light, you can use a polariser or neutral density filter. I have found that a ND filter gives some fantastic effects. If you invest in one of these for your waterfall photos you will find that the amount if light on the lens is reduced. Water, taken during the day with sunlight can overexpose the main focal point of your photo. This is why a lens like this is invaluable. Once the light is reduced (provided you are shooting during the day on auto) the shutter speed will change accordingly. You will find no reduction of colour at all.
It’s also wise to use a tripod when photographing waterfalls. A shutter speed of 1 to 2 seconds (depending on light) is a pretty slow shutter speed and you don’t want to take any chances. So many times my students have sent me photos if their waterfall shots with some significant blur, leaving them disappointed in the process.
Also, with such a slow shutter, try to get yourself a shutter release cable. A remote shutter release is even better because the chance of knocking your camera goes to absolute zero. It’s a must when taking such slow shutter speeds like this because even the most beautiful photo is ruined by the slightest movement.
If you don’t have a remote release cable, you can use the cameras self timer. This is something I’ve used a lot when I first started photography. And no, its not just used for taking group portrait holiday photos, its brilliant for this situation.
Using your cameras timer will get a similar, if not the same effect, as using a remote shutter release cable. When you set the timer, press the shutter. You will still have about five to twenty seconds before the shutter will open and take the picture. (Each digital camera is different with the length of time this window is so check your camera manual.)
As you take your finger off the shutter button, this five to twenty second window of opportunity, gives your photo a chance to be free of any camera shake or movement your hand may have caused in touching the camera.
To summarise, just remember that the time of day you are shooting your waterfall is very important- watch for stormy clouds to enhance colour and capture that beautiful water with a slow shutter speed of under 2 seconds. One more reason why its good to have low light is because water offers come high contrast on a photo when taken in the mid afternoon sun. The low light will soften any potential harsh contrasts.
If you do find that you have too much light during the day with the slow shutter, you can always adjust the levels on the Photoshop Histogram.
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Top Photo copyright by Luis Valdez
Camera: Sony DSC-R1
Exp. time: 1/200 (0.005 secs)
Focal length: 26 mm
ISO speed: 200
Bottom photo copyright by K Greggain
No camera data supplied. But I would say with the softness of the image it would have had a slow shutter speed.