5 Tips to Improve Your Waterfall Photos

One of my favorite subjects to photograph are powerful yet serene waterfall scenes.  The payoff of reaching a stunning waterfall after a long hike is always worth it and even more so if you can capture a stunning image from that moment in time.  I'm going to share a few things I always keep in mind while photographing these locations to try and help you get great shots you can be proud of.

  Blackwater Falls, West Virginia

Blackwater Falls, West Virginia

1. Weather/Time of Day - For the most part I usually plan waterfall shoots for cloudy days.  Cloudy days are great for even light and cutting reflections off the water and shiny surfaces.  Also cloudy days help you achieve slower shutter speeds which are useful to show motion in the water.  If it is cloudy you can pretty much shoot waterfalls all day long.  If you are going to be taking photographs of waterfalls on a sunny day I would plan to use the soft early morning light.  Direct sunlight in the middle of the day will cause very harsh reflections and cause lots of your shots to be overexposed and it will make it harder to shoot at the optimal shutter speeds.  (The photo of Blackwater Falls above was shot at 7AM just around sunrise.)

2. Tripod - When shooting waterfalls always use a sturdy tripod.  Camera shake will always ruin even the best of subjects and especially when working with waterfalls.  The slower shutter speeds you will most likely be using are very susceptible to motion blur so always have your camera on a sturdy tripod and use a wireless remote/self timer/cable release and mirror lock up if using a DSLR.

3. Shutter Speed - Typically when shooting waterfalls I like to blur the water to show motion but not too much to lose all the details in the water.  I find a good starting point for a shutter speed is 1/8th of a second for very fast moving water all the way down to 2 seconds for water that is more calm and not moving as fast.  It's important for you to experiment with different speeds to find the look you want for your artistic vision but I find that range from 1/8th to 2 seconds to be excellent for waterfalls.

  Elakala Falls, West Virginia

Elakala Falls, West Virginia

4. Polarizing Filter - One great tool you should always have in your camera bag for shooting waterfalls or landscapes in general is a polarizing filter.  A polarizing filter is helpful with waterfalls to reduce the light getting into your camera to help you achieve the slow shutter speeds I mentioned above.  Also the filter will help cut reflections of vegetation, rocks and water.  If you have ever seen those photos where you can see right through the water to the rocks below it's because they used a polarizing filter.  I never shoot waterfalls without one as I find it to be essential in creating the look I want.  Also, spend some money to get a decent filter, you don't want to put a cheap filter in front of an expensive lens.  It will degrade the image quality.  I would recommend polarizing filters made by Hoya or B+W which are affordable brands but still provide great results.

5.  Angle/Perspective - One of the fun things about photographing waterfalls is being able to immerse yourself into the scene.  Waterfalls are a very popular thing to photograph and that can make it hard to come up with a shot that hasn't been done before.  I recommend trying to get low or close to the water or have an interesting foreground subject like a log or rocks. So get down into the scene and If you have to get in the water to get a perspective that other people haven't captured of the same location.  Be careful though, rocks around streams and rivers are super slippery so use extreme caution and wear shoes and clothes that are suitable for that kind of climbing.  Never put yourself in danger to get a shot, this should be fun after all and not something that puts you in danger or in the hospital.

Hopefully you found this information helpful and you get out there and capture some great waterfall shots.  If you have any questions or comments you can contact me through the 'Meet The Artist" section of my site or leave me a comment below.

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