One of the most common questions that most of the photographer has is ‘how do I photograph waterfalls?’
Waterfalls do present themselves as a wonderful and challenging subject matter to photographers. Firstly they’re beautiful places, secondly they are often in tricky lighting situation and thirdly they’re a dynamic subject as they’re moving (and of course movement means a challenge but also a real opportunity for a more dynamic shot).
A lot has been written about the finer points of photographing waterfalls but the basics are fairly simple.
Working with Movement
Anytime you’re presented with a moving subject a photographer really has two options. Firstly they can freeze the motion by using a fast shutter speed and secondly they can capture and enhance the motion by using a longer shutter speed that blurs the moving element in the shot (in this case – water).
Most photographers take the second option and allow the water to blur. Here’s how to do it. You’ll need your digital camera and a tripod. It will also be helpful to have a polarizing filter if you have one.
How to Photograph Waterfalls
Take a Control Shot – Before you start experimenting – switch your camera to auto mode, make sure your flash is turned off and take a shot of the waterfall. As you do – take notice of the exposure that the camera sets. Your camera will almost certainly choose an exposure that freezes the water somewhat. This photo will be a bit of a reference point to compare your shots to later and to use as a basis for your exposures.
Shutter Priority Mode – Switch to shutter priority mode on your camera (we’ve talked about shutter and aperture priority modes previously). Generally you’ll want to try to get a shutter speed of 1 to 2 seconds to get a nicely blurred water.
Tripod – Of course to take a shot at a shutter speed of this length you’ll definitely need a tripod or some other way to ensure that your camera is completely still for the full time that the shutter is open.
Sounds easy doesn’t it – attach your camera to a tripod, switch to shutter priority mode, set your shutter speed to 1-2 seconds and take the shot. Unfortunately in most cases it’s not that simple.
The problem with increasing the shutter speed is that it increases the amount of light that gets into your camera and unless it’s quite a dark and gloomy day you’ll find your image is going to be over exposed (even though in shutter priority mode the camera will choose a very small aperture to try to compensate for it).