8 Steps to Photographing a Waterfall


waterfall in the forest full landscape photograph

Step One – Check the weather

This might sound a little strange, but cloudy and overcast weather is best for taking waterfall photographs. Direct or bright sunlight makes the white in a waterfall too bright, which can make the rest of your photograph under exposed. There is a better overall balance of light on an overcast day and the clouds act as a giant softbox or light diffuser.  If you are after professional photos, you want to get the best lighting. Also remember that if you are out in the forest, you might want to pack a jacket and some rain proof gear for you and your camera, especially if you are in the Auckland area in New Zealand. The weather is so unpredictable here that it can’t hurt to be prepared.

Step Two – Find the waterfall

This may not be as simple as it sounds if you want great waterfall photographs. You could simply do an internet search and locate any waterfalls that may be close to where you live. However, this means you will be getting the same sort of photographs that everyone else is getting that lives in your area. While it is true that people like pictures of places that they have been to or are familiar with, quite often many of these places do not have the raw rugged beauty that can really make a great photograph. Or, they have already been photographed to death.

road sign and car on a gravel road

Often I will be out driving and if I locate a stream or river that has a road next to it, I will drive up the road to investigate. If the general terrain is not too flat, sometimes there are hidden gems upstream that can make for the best photographs. Also, a good idea is to stop and ask some friendly locals if there are any waterfalls nearby.

On this particular day I went up an old gravel road and stopped to talk to some people who looked like they were locals. They told me that there was a nice waterfall some distance up the road and to be careful as the road was not the best. The road was an adventure in itself but I eventually managed to locate the waterfall.

Step Three – Don’t kill yourself getting to the waterfall

If you are dead, you can’t take photos. Sad but true and I stood on the road looking at what I would have to climb down to get the shot. After much inspection I decided that I should be able to make it down to the bottom of the ravine, if I was careful. I had a few moments of regret on the way down and I may have a sore bottom from a few scrapes. I don’t think I would do it again in a hurry, ha!

Step Four – Insect repellent and sun screen

I should have had some of this… I got chewed! I did have the sunscreen.

waterfall in the forest in portrait format

Step Five – Don’t kill yourself setting up

Often around a waterfall or in a stream, there are boulders and these can be dangerous. If you are not careful, you can slip on these and end up with a sore bottom, a sore leg and wet pants… just saying. One small tip, keep your camera in its bag for protection right up until you are ready to start taking photographs.

Step Six – Don’t kill yourself taking the photos

So perhaps I am going a little over the top with the “don’t kill yourself” thing but once the tripod is set up and you have decided what your best point of view is, make sure that it is safe. Also, make sure that you have good footing around the area you are taking the photographs from. If you are standing in the water, it is best to leave any gear you are not going to use on the stream bank. Take note of your environment as well. Occasionally I have found the perfect angle and set up in the middle of some shrubs, only to look down and realise I am standing on a spiders nest and they are crawling up my legs! This can make for an amusing dance for any company you have with you… again, just saying.

So, unless you want a video of you screaming like a school girl, swatting monster spiders off your legs to go viral, take note of where you are standing and what you are standing on.

Freaking spiders eck!

Step Seven – Try several angles

If you can, try and think of angles and views that other people might not consider. Don’t just photograph at head height. Get down low or photograph the waterfall from the side or from above. The real key with getting professional photos is to try and do something that most other people would not think to do. Also look at your composition within your photo. Try not to have the waterfall in the centre of the picture and also try and minimize the amount of sky in your photographs. People want to see the waterfall and stream. The sky? Not so much.

waterfall in the forest differ

Step Eight – Don’t kill yourself getting back to your car

Ugggh that cliff, those thorns and that mud. Why did I do this again?


This was an enjoyable day and the results are beautiful photos of a secret and breath-taking place. There are a limited number of prints and sizes available of some of the photographs taken in this session so contact Professional Photos if you would like to order a print. I am also available in a mentoring role if you want to learn how to get the best out of your camera and a great location.

Take some time with your camera and learn how it operates. If you can, take your camera out of automatic mode and put it into aperture priority or manual mode to get amazing photographs. When photographing any body of water, try using a polarizing filter to see if it can improve your photographs. Sometimes you may also benefit from other filters which can assist in slowing down your shutter speed so you can get the lovely feathered water effect.

Remember to take lots of photos because that is how you improve and it helps to have fun doing it. Get out! Explore! And… don’t kill yourself.

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