Taking beautiful images of waterfalls is something every hiker strives for. Everyone has a favorite waterfall in their neck of the woods and a few they would love to see someday. However, capturing the beauty of nature’s motion is not an easy task. To capture the feeling of the movement and take beautiful waterfall pictures, follow these simple steps and learn how to take better pictures.
Waterfall photography starts with knowing your equipment
Be familiar with your equipment and make sure that your equipment includes a tripod. It does not have to be 10 awkward pounds, but not having one severely limits your ambition and ability to take beautiful waterfall photos. Also, make sure to carry both a neutral-density and a polarizing filter. The neutral density filter helps with shooting on sunny days. The polarizing filter will help control hot spots. You may not need them, but not having them when you do is likely the difference between a good photo and phenomenal photo. Lastly, carry a microfiber lens cloth; mist from the falls can harm your lens (we carry two when we know we are specifically capturing waterfalls).
Plan ahead for the best pictures of waterfalls
Plan ahead! Waterfalls are best shot in the absence of direct light. Since most are in canyons, early morning and sunset are often the best times. Or, set out on your adventure during an overcast day. Waterfall photography is best when you can avoid the harsh midday sun that creates hotspots and harsh unwelcome shadows. In short, the best waterfall photography is done when the entire falls is in a shadow and has even light. That said, rainbows will need some light to really impress.
Beautiful waterfall pics require careful photography composition
Think about composition!
1) Consider the foreground! Is there a stream, canyon or river leading to the falls?
2) Are there beautiful trees or soaring peaks in the background?
3) Will the best shot be achieved with a wide angle, mid-range or a zoom lens?
4) Is the falls raging with water? Or a small cascade in a stream?
5) What are the weather conditions? Is it windy? Is it raining?
Beautiful Waterfalls photos require proper photography technique.
Technique is everything. What are your objectives? Do you want to capture detail in the falls or a silky stream of movement? For this you need to use the three pillars of photography... ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed.
1) Considering ISO: A low ISO decreases your camera’s sensitivity to light, while a higher ISO increase the sensitivity. With a higher ISO comes the ability to shoot in lower light, but is also accompanied with an increase in grain or “noise” in the photo. A generally accepted rule for waterfall photography is to start with a low ISO, IE 100 or 200 to minimize any noise.
2) Considering Aperture: Low aperture (e.g., f 1.4) increases the amount of light allowed into your camera and generally blurs the background of photos. A high aperture (e.g., f 8) decreases the amount of light allowed into your camera and maximizes focus in the frame. A general rule for waterfall photography is to use a high aperture.
3) Considering Shutter Speed: Shutter speed is responsible for capturing a moment or motion. A high shutter speed freezes time in an instant. For example to catch a bird in flight with crispness you want to use a fast shutter speed such as 1/1000th of a second. However, with waterfall photography to capture the feeling of motion in the water you want to use a slow shutter speed. This is also why a tripod becomes so important.Technique is everything. What are your objectives? Do you want to capture detail in the falls or a silky stream of movement? For this you need to use the three pillars of photography... ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed.
Combining ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed. For waterfall photography use a lower ISO to decrease grain, a high aperture to increase overall focus of the frame and a slower shutter speed to capture movement. Again, with the slower shutter speed (sometimes more than a few seconds) a tripod is a necessity.
Waterfall pictures are about more than just the waterfall
Look at everything else. Now that you’ve captured a beautiful waterfall picture, take look at everything in the photo. Was there a light breeze? Are the leaves and plants slightly blurred? You obviously don’t want that, so take a few more shots and experiment. Increase your shutter speed. Open your aperture an f-stop or two, but not enough to destroy overall focus. Increase your ISO slightly, but not enough to introduce noise. Then at home, use editing software to layer your silky waterfall with the crisp vegetation.
Have fun! Many professional photographers will tell you these are hard and fast rules to follow. We say bah! While certainly good advice, remember the most important thing is to enjoy yourself in a beautiful surrounding and try to capture a photo that reminds you of that feeling every time you see it.