how to photograph waterfalls

The first photo included in the How to Photograph Waterfalls article used the Rule of Thirds in Photography as a tool for good composition.  I used a slow shutter speed and small aperture to get the right exposure and waiting for a cloud to soften the light for pleasing lighting.

Use good composition techniques like the rule of thirds in photography

As with most photography, the how to photograph waterfalls method centers around the three most important elements of photography, exposure, composition, and lighting.  

Many advanced photographers can call me Captain Obvious on that tip, but it's important to remember the basics before you go for advanced techniques with your photography, no matter what level of photographer you consider yourself.

proper exposure for waterfall photography

The most common mistake in water fall photography is over exposure of the water itself.

Auto-exposure camera settings can mis-read the situation.

The dark areas of the scene fool the cameras meter.

Also, direct sunlight on cascading water makes for a very bright situation and difficult for the camera's sensor to capture correctly.

Using exposure override, setting the exposure manually and looking at your camera's histogram are all ways to improve your ability to handle waterfall exposure just right.

Over-exposed waterfall picture

Click to Enlarge

The three factors that affect exposure are ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. How you set each one of them effects how you have to set the others.  Together they make up the exposure triangle.

Controlling the shutter speed in waterfall photography is the  most often talked about subject because of the beautiful results you can get by using long exposures to achieve that smooth, creamy-looking water flow.

Picture of waterfall with creamy water

Exposure of this waterfall was f/22 for .6 second at ISO 160

There are usually two different approaches to shutter speed selection.  How fast the water is moving will change the exact speed to use, but generally here are two starting pints to use as gnearl guides

A.  To freeze the motion use a minimum 1/250 second or faster for moderately moving water

B. For intentional water movement blur use 1/2 second or slower to get the right effect.  

Compare the two different motion waterfall photos below and the different effects between 1/5 second in the picture below and 3 seconds in the waterfall photo below that.

Waterfall with faster shutter speed

1/5 second

Waterfall with slower shutter speed

3 seconds

The waterfall itself didn't change too much but the splash pool looks completely different.

best lighting for photographing waterfalls

The best lighting for waterfall photography is often on cloudy days.  Waterfalls are often surrounded by trees, which cast shadows and produce un-even and contrasty lighting conditions.

Another good lighting situations occurs early in the morning or late in the day when the sun is low in the sky.

There are always exceptions to every photography rule so its always pays to experiment and learn from the results you get in each situation.  That's one of the greatest things about digital photography. Play around.  Have fun.  Learn from the ones you like and the ones you don't like.

essential equipment and how to photograph waterfalls

1. A tripod is an absolute must in situation where light is limited or whenever you are using a slow shutter speed to capture the blur of the rushing water.

2.  A wide angle prime lens or a zoom lens with wide-angle capabilities is very important to have in order to have a wide view in tight areas

3.  A Shutter cord or remote release.  Even when secured on a tripod your camera will move slightly when you push the shutter button with your finger

other valuable accessories for photographing waterfalls

A neutral density filter is a nice add on when you have too much light to use a long shutter speed. ND filters are great for taking very long exposures of waves on the beach in bright sunlight.

LCD screen magnifiers like the Hoodman HoodLoupe are great for viewing your camera's LCD screen when you are outside in bright light.  They also magnify the screen to get a good look at your focus and sharpness.

Reviews on the Hoodman Loupe Magnifier by Amazon customers

other tips for photographing waterfalls

1-  Try some photos where your camera has an extremely low perspective and include some rocks or plants in the foreground.  This creates depth in the photo.

2- If you don't have a shutter cord or remote release you can always use the self-timer.

3- Calm days without wind are better too.  With long exposure to get the motion in the water recorded, the breeze will make the plants photograph blurry.

4-  Winter is a great time to get interesting patterns of ice and moving water.  You must be cautious and properly equipped for dangerously slippery conditions.

Reviews of Books on Waterfalls at Amazon

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Have a blast learning how to photograph waterfalls!


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