Waterfall photography is one of the most spectacular types of photos we can create. Learning how to photograph waterfalls not only inspires us to become great landscape photographers but also helps us to strive to become better photographers in general. There is one problem with taking photos of waterfalls that many photo enthusiasts struggle with. That is the light. Sometimes out waterfalls can bee too dark or too bright. It seems to be a challenge to get the right exposure. Lets examine some ways we can take sharp and clear photos of waterfalls.
In this waterfall photography tutorial I will be discussing the main problems with exposure. Exposure is a term to describe how much nice light there is. This means that the exposure of your waterfall must be just right; not too bright and not too dark. This can be difficult when you are photographing your waterfall on a bright day.
You can see one of my earlier photos of a waterfall. This was taken on the automatic setting over ten years ago when I knew very little about photography. Thankfully times have changed and I know what to do now!
The problem with this photo is that the camera metered off the darker areas of the photo and forgot about the top section. As a result the top of the waterfall is unseen because it’s too bright.
Years later when I purchased Lightroom I decided that I’d get to know it by trying to fix some of my old shots, such as this waterfall photo here.
Here is the result.
Couldn’t fix it. Why? Because the photo was not taken properly to begin with. I tried to fix the highlights and reduce the brightness at the top to even out the light but it still does not work. I had to forget about this one unfortunately.
When waterfalls are photographed on a bright day in the automatic setting we get one of two things. The water fall is perfectly exposed and all the surrounding elements, like your mountain range and cliff face is underexposed. (Too dark.) We may also be faced with the surrounding elements being just right and out waterfall being overexposed (too bright.) How do we get the waterfall and the surrounds both looking perfectly exposed?
The first thing I can recommend is to shoot in filtered light. A soft grey light will not only accentuate your green leaves and trees around the waterfall, but it will not overexpose anything too much. You will still need to meter off the white water however. You will notice that when taking your waterfall in filtered light, it’s easier to get better exposure. The highlights are reduced and the shadows are not as strong. Light is refracted due to the clouds and this is why we get a filtered look in our photos.
Let’s take a look at some examples of what waterfalls look like in filtered light.
This photo was a 3 shot panorama. Water is tricky when you shoot panoramas. You have to have your shutter on super fast. I’ll talk about that in a different photography tutorial. Let’s examine this photo a little more closely. The lighting is coming from the top and we see shadows in the rock face below. To be able to create this waterfall photo I made sure that I had the right exposure. I metered off the water. You see your waterfall will be the brightest thing in the scene so it is important to tell the camera to meter off that. This works particularly well if you are spot metering. This photo was taken from a distance, on top of a bridge, looking across a river. I wanted to be able to have a different vantage point but it was not physically possible, so I made use of what I had.
How to photograph waterfalls depends on your light, vantage point and getting the right exposure. Once you have all three then you can enjoy going to the next level; editing. Sometimes bringing up the whites and shadows by a fraction will help even out the light even more. You might want to increase the vibrancy, or increase one colour only. Take your time and find the right method that works for you. Soon your waterfalls will be looking like masterpieces you will want to hang on your wall.
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