5 Basic Technical Tips on Taking Waterfall Photographs

It has been a very busy spring here in Auckland, New Zealand and as usual we have had a very rainy, cloudy lead up to summer. I have been working on some very large corporate photography jobs so my blog has suffered a little – whoops.

In my spare time I have made several dashes to local waterfalls to capture them while they have a good volume of water and summer has not scorched the vegetation. While taking my usual photos I remembered the blog entry that I wrote a while back, about taking waterfall pictures, which was a bit of a humorous read. You can check it out here. I thought a little more about what I was doing and thought I would get a little more technical, so here are 5 technical tips on how to get the best out of your camera when taking waterfall pictures. Also enjoy the video where you can follow me on one of my local missions.

a waterfall with pond grass and forest

Tip 01 Tripod

You can take lovely waterfall pictures without a tripod, but if you want to get that silky feathered look to the water, you will need a good tripod. This is because you need to take your photo over a long amount of time. The slower you can make your shutter speed, the more smooth and lovely the water will look. The tripod will stop the camera from moving while you take these photos at a show speed and by stopping the camera from moving, you wont get shaky or blurry photos.

a waterfall with boulders clear water and forest

Tip 02 ND Filter

A ND (Neutral Density) filter is a dark filter that you can put over the end of your lens. It is like putting sunglasses on your camera and this means less light gets into your camera. You can get ND filters of differing strengths and I use anywhere from an ND4 to ND10. By reducing the amount of light coming into your camera, your camera will take longer to take the photo. To get the right amount of light into the camera to get the correct exposure, the camera will leave the shutter open longer. It is this action that makes the water look all feathery and nice. Sometimes on a dark day you don’t need to use the ND filter because the amount of light is low already which means your camera naturally chooses a slower shutter speed. Trial and error is your best friend in working out when you will benefit from one of these filters.

a large waterfall with stream

Tip 03 Circular Polarizing Filter

It seems that I keep going on about this useful piece of glass but it really does make a big difference to your photographs. Check out a more in-depth blog entry on polarizing filters I have written here with some before and after photographs. Just a note, you may want to purchase a slim polarizing filter and a slim ND filter if you are using them together like I do. This will stop filter vignetting on your photos (filter vignetting is when you have dark shadows in all corners of your photos which can be caused by the filters getting in the way of the lens at wide angles.)

a feathered waterfall with stream

Tip 04 Self Timer

To reduce camera shake from when your camera opens it’s shutter from you pressing the button to take the photo, use the self timer on your camera. If you can, set it to 2 seconds instead of 10 seconds. You then press the button to take the photo, the camera waits 2 seconds and in that time, the vibrations from you pressing the button should be gone. Those vibrations from you pushing down the shutter release button to take the photo can give you blurry photos. This tip is for when your camera is mounted on a tripod because if you are hand holding your camera, the self timer will not make a difference.

a blue waterfall with stream and fores

Tip 05 Manual Control

If you are comfortable changing the aperture and the shutter speed on your camera, you will get the best results. I have a few blog entries on manual control which might be of interest. Check out… How do I make my background blurry? And Manual versus Automatic camera settings.
Ideally for taking waterfall photos, you want that slow shutter speed and you can use your aperture to slow down your shutter speed. If you use a higher aperture number like F8 up to F16, that will close off the amount of light getting into the camera slowing down the shutter. It will also give you a clearer photo as you are using the best part of your lens.

a small waterfall with clear stream

a large waterfall looking through trees

a small waterfall and mossy rocks

Bonus Tips

If you are using a DSLR as your camera, some have the option to lock up the mirror. It will be in your menu system in your camera so turn that on when using the self timer option to take the photo. That will ensure all camera shake is gone. Don’t forget to switch it back when you are finished otherwise it makes taking normal photos a rather weird experience.

The biggest tip I can give you is not really technical but it is… try and take your waterfall photos on a cloudy day. It reduces contrast and glare from bright light and it means you get lovely detail in the white, fluffy parts of the waterfall.

Check out the video below, of me taking on the challenge to make a 250 photo animated sequence of a waterfall.

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