How to photograph waterfalls?

There are several basic concepts to consider when photographing waterfalls. Below I’ll list some tips that I have learnt from photographing various waterfalls.

Best conditions

The right conditions are crucial for photographing waterfalls. The best conditions are; overcast days, during sunset and sunrise. Each have soft and balanced light, unlike direct sunlight, which is a very hard and harsh light. Water flow is also very important (obviously), checking Instagram or other media websites are a great way to see recent photos to get an idea of the current stream flow conditions. Otherwise the wetter season is your best bet for a good steady flow. Windy days are not ideal because of motion blur of leaves moving during long exposure shots. To prevent this, you will need to take a long and short shutter speed image and blend the two together in Photoshop later (silky water & sharp leaves).

Equipment

  • Tripod – is a must for low light conditions and a perfectly sharp image.

  • Lens cleaner and towel – waterfalls are usually in high rainfall areas, so a towel is ideal to wipe down your camera. High air moisture conditions will also fog up your lens, make sure you bring a lens cloth.

  • Polariser – is a MUST for your photo to pop! Not only does it increase the shutter speed for the more desired silky water look. But it also removes the glare and reflections off the water, rocks and vegetation. This then saturates the greens and water, which really makes for an eye pleasing result.

  • Neutral density filter – is the next best thing if you don’t have a polariser to achieve silky water. However, each situation is different and silky water isn’t always the best approach.

No Polariser vs. Polariser

Avoid the sky

A bright sky can be very distracting, the focus should be based around drawing your eye to the waterfall. Blown out highlights and unbalanced light can be a by-product of adding a sky to your waterfall image.

Foreground interest

Often people tend to frame the entire image with just the waterfall. Personally, this isn’t a desirable look unless it is a unique waterfall. You want to have a foreground interest, such as a rock or water current. Otherwise look for a leading line to draw your viewer’s eyes from the bottom of the image, to the waterfall at the top. Shooting from a low perspective can also give you a different and creative look. A panorama is often required to fit the entire scene into one image when shooting waterfalls. Make sure to consider both vertical and horizontal panoramas.

Focus stacking

There are regularly many elements in the foreground and background when shooting waterfalls. To guarantee a completely sharp image, you will need to focus on the foreground and background of each individual image. Then blend the stacked images during post processing for a completely sharp image from head to toe.

Bracketing

Make sure to bracket in case of an over or under exposed image. With large memory cards now, I personally prefer to bracket just to be certain I have everything I need.

Thank you for reading and if you have any questions or comments please leave them below.

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Specialising in landscape photography based in Adelaide, South Australia. Bradley Newell produces limited edition fine art prints,  focusing on coastal and inland environments.  

All photos & content may not be used without written permission of the photographer © 2020 Adelaide, Australia