I don’t know why, but human beings seem to be strongly attracted to waterfalls. One of the first photos most newbies want to make is a serious waterfall photo.
It’s not hard to do well, and here are seven tips to get you started on your way.
Before you leave home, study the waterfall(s) you’ll be photographing. Try to find photos taken by other photographers at various times of year and times of day. Learn the proper name and exact location of the waterfall. Also be sure to learn how much hiking you’ll have to do to get to the falls.
You will want to plan your trip for a watery waterfall. Spring is always a good time, since many waterfalls get their water from snow runoff. As soon as the snow starts to melt, most waterfalls swell up, making them prime photographic targets. Early winter is another great time to shoot. Snow often makes a nice backdrop for waterfall photography, even if the waterfall isn’t running full steam.
3. Time of Day
Unless you’re shooting High Dynamic Range/Tone Mapped images, you’ll want to shoot the waterfall at a time of day when it’s either entirely in shade or sunlight. On days when there are high, diffuse clouds, you can shoot any time of day, provided the clouds remain. Sunrise and sunset may be too early or late depending on whether or not the waterfall is surrounded by higher mountains or cliffs which cast long shadows on the waterfall.
4. Gear Up
You will want a good, solid, tripod if you plan to make serious waterfall photos. Any camera will do. A zoom lens will give you the chance to shoot both wide and detailed looks of the waterfall. I also like to bring ND and polarizing filters. The latter can help reduce glare on water and both can reduce the amount of light falling on the sensor so you can use longer shutter speeds, even on sunny days. You may also want to use a bubble level if your camera doesn’t have a built-in level. It’s important to keep everything level for the sake of the viewer’s orientation. Bring a cellphone, GPS, water, snacks and first-aid kit just in case. Lastly, use a cable release to make sure your shots aren’t out of focus due to camera movement from pressing the shutter button.
5. Camera Setup
You’ll want to use a low ISO to make sure you get the best chance for a slow shutter speed (assuming you want to blur the water.) You will also benefit from less noisy photos this way. Select an aperture that allows for a slow shutter speed, but enough depth-of-field to get lots of detail. I usually start at F/8 or F/11 and work from there.
Setting up your tripod requires you to find a good, safe. vantage point. Be careful. Areas surrounding waterfalls are often wet due to overspray or mist. The ground may be unstable or wet or slippery. Place your tripod in a secure location. Lock it down tight, and make sure everything is level.
7. Blur The Action
Slow shutter speeds will give you that cotton candy effect. Most photographers (but not all) prefer to blur the water. If you’re not one of them, it’s perfectly acceptable to stop the action with a faster shutter speed. It’s a personal choice. For blurred water, pick a slow shutter speed. I like to aim for about 1-2 seconds. Anything slower than 1/2 second should do in most situations. Bracket your shutter speed to see what different settings deliver. You may find you like the water somewhere between blurry and frozen solid.