We’ve all seen them; waterfall photos that stop us in our tracks and make us say “Wow! I would love to go there!” So what makes a jaw-dropping beautiful waterfall photo? The answer is in these easy tips and tricks, and isn’t as complicated as you might think!
1: Pack a Tripod: To capture stunning waterfall photography tripods are a must. The desired misty water effect is nearly impossible without one. I’ll explain more about this when I talk about shutter speed in the ‘settings’ section.
2: Polarization Filter: If you’ve never used one of these before you’re in for a treat. Because water is a reflective surface, light bounces off the water in all of the wrong ways. The polarizing filter cuts out these harsh reflections of light on the surface of the water and surrounding rocks and foliage. With circular polarization filters, you can choose to see what lies beneath the water, or change the angle of the filter to capture the reflection on the surface.
Because using polarizing filters is like putting sunglasses in front of your lens, they also allow you to select longer shutter speeds to compensate for the loss of light…perfect for amazing waterfall shots.
The third thing that a polarization filter does for your photography is saturate the blues and greens creating vivid colors. If you have one of these filters, you can use it with all of your landscape photography to give your shots that extra edge.
3: Neutral Density Filter (ND Filter): These filters also reduce the amount of light passing through your lens. This allows you to slow the shutter speed down even more to create that sought-after misty effect.
(You should be able to use multiple filters at the same time by screwing them together. Be careful though, because when you have multiple filters stacked on the end of your lens, it creates a tunnel causing a dark vignette around the edge of your photo. With a zoom lens, you can zoom past the tunnel.)
1: Shutter Speed: This setting is the deciding factor of how much motion blur will occur in your photo. The motion blur is what makes your waterfall appear misty. There is no set rule as to how long to leave your shutter open. It depends on several different factors like; how much light is available, how fast the water is moving, and the overall effect you wish for your photo.
If you’re shooting in bright daylight, you’re not going to be able to have too long of a shutter speed because the highlights in your photo will start to blow-out. This is when having a combination of ND and polarization filters really comes in handy. Start out using around 1/2 of a second shutter speed and experiment from there.
With less light, you have more flexibility and choice towards the end result of your photo. Starting with a longer shutter speed of about 2-3 seconds will give the water time to blur properly. Remember, these are just suggestions and it will take some experimenting to find the best settings for your given situation.
I mentioned shooting on a tripod before and I’ll reiterate the point now. You must use a tripod! Trying to handhold a waterfall shot will create ‘handshake’ in your photo and ruin your shot. If there is no tripod available, try positioning your camera on your bag (still no handheld shots) and using the timer function to save having to press the shutter.
2: Aperture: Choose a narrow aperture (f22 or above). This will enhance your photo in two very important ways. One, it will put more of the shot in focus. (A good tip for all landscape photos.) Two, a narrow aperture means less light passes through the lens. That means we will need to open the shutter longer, which is always a bonus when shooting amazing waterfall photos!
3: ISO: Keep your ISO as low as possible. Firstly it will enhance your photo by not creating unwanted grain. Secondly, the goal with motion blur is long shutter speeds. The higher the ISO, the quicker the shutter needs move.
If you’ve never used the (M) Manual mode on your camera, this is a great way to learn how!
Tips and Tricks:
1: Add Elements of Interest: Conducting a waterfall image search with any major search engines will instantly pop of millions of photos. You will quickly see that once you start browsing through the waterfall pictures, they all start looking the
lame same. To create jaw-dropping waterfall photography, as cheesy as it sounds, you need to tell the story of the waterfall.
Try zooming out a bit to include the foreground of the waterfall. Or maybe shoot through some leaves to give your waterfall a ‘secret’ feel. You can also show some of the surrounding landscape to give your waterfall a sense of identity.
2: Watch the Histogram: We rely on the back LCD screens of our cameras far too often. These can be deceiving by not showing us that we’ve allowed too much light into our picture and blown the highlights into bright white patches. (BIG NO NO!)