How to Take Beautiful Waterfall Photographs

Albion Summer

With over 100 trips to waterfalls under my belt, I thought I would share some tips and tricks I have learned along the way. Each waterfall experience can be very different from the next depending on the time of day, season and waterfall class. This guide aims to give you an overview of how I go about photographing and editing each image. I hope you find it helpful.

Recommended Items:

  • Camera
  • Memory Cards
  • Tripod
  • Polarizing Filter (preferably a Circular Polarizer)
  • Cable Release
  • Neutral Density Filters
  • Camera Bag (Backpack preferred)
  • Waterproof Boots
  • Lens Cleaning Cloth
  • Bug Repellent
  • Cell Phone
  • Drink/Snack

SAFETY

First and foremost, I would like to say that waterfalls and surrounding areas can be very dangerous. Many locations  have deep drop offs,  fast currents, and it is not uncommon for rocks in the area to be slippery. We do not recommend going out to shoot waterfalls on your own. We highly recommend taking a friend with you in case you run in to trouble. If you must go alone, let friends and family know which waterfalls you will be visiting, and when you expect to return home. Carry a cell phone in case you need to call for help. Some waterfalls require hiking for long distances; dress accordingly and take a bottle of water and a small snack. Most waterfalls I have visited are mosquito free, but once in a while you will find them to be overwhelming. Bring insect repellent just in case; you’ll thank me later.

Washboard Falls

RESEARCH

When I visit a new location, I take the time to do some research online. Finding out the best way to get to a waterfall beforehand will save you a lot of time and be safer.  It’s a good idea to print up a map of how to get to the falls.  If their are photos online of the waterfall you are going to visit, you can see ahead of time which perspectives you like and hopefully gain some insight.

Hoggs Falls

SCOUTING

Once you arrive on site, take a look around to determine which spots might yield a good photograph.  If possible, I try to take photos from 3+ different perspectives so that I have options when it comes time to edit. A good view in person does not always translate to a good photograph, and vice versa, so don’t rely on one angle to give you the best results. I highly recommend wearing waterproof boots as this will allow you to take photos from a wider range of positions, especially in slow moving rivers. Once you have found the right spot, set up your tripod and camera.

Sherman Falls

Sherman Falls

SHOOTING

Camera settings: First of all, make sure your ISO is set to 100 or less. We won’t need a higher ISO since we are using a tripod. In order to get that silky smooth look, you will need to use a long exposure. Experience has taught me that a 1 second exposure gives pleasant results, but feel free to experiment. I recommend using a cable release to reduce camera movement during exposure.   The best type of weather for shooting waterfalls is overcast. Overcast lighting provides even exposure of the scene and allows you to achieve longer exposures. Shooting on a sunny day will yield photographs with varying exposures and restrict you to shorter exposures. One way to overcome varied lighting is to bracket your exposures (+2, +1, 0, -1, -2) . This will allow you to create an HDR photo (High Dynamic Range) during editing. A polarizing lens is a MUST for the advanced photographer. It allows you to control the amount of reflection in the photograph, allowing you to see either a reflection in the water, or let you see through it. I have yet to use them, but Neutral Density filters will allow you to increase your exposure time. They can be helpful in achieving slow shutter speeds on sunny days.

Hilton Falls

OTHER TIPS

  • The wonderful thing about waterfalls is that they can look completely different depending on the time of year.  Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn offer completely different looks.
  • To achieve deep focus in your image, take multiple photographs of the same scene while focusing on different elements. Afterward, combine them in editing.
  • Try shooting at different times of the day (morning, day, evening) as the quality of light is different
  • Waterfalls have varying amounts of visitors, usually determined by their ease of access. Many locations have little to no traffic, but if you are going to a popular waterfall, plan ahead; avoid peak times on weekends as well as holiday weekends.
  • A Wide Angle lens is recommended

Hilton Falls

SUMMARY

  1. Safety, Safety, Safety!
  2. Plan Ahead
  3. Bring the right equipment
  4. Long exposures
  5. Shoot from varried positions
  6. Try shooting at different times of the day
  7. Visit waterfalls during different seasons

Tews Falls

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3 Responses to “How to Take Beautiful Waterfall Photographs”

  1. Good stuff Jonathan,

    Very useful information here, and a positive contribution for the web.

    Dave
    hawkeyefilms

  2. […] Please note that waterfalls and surrounding areas can be very dangerous due to large drop offs, quick moving currents and slippery surfaces. Perhaps you’d like to read our guide on How to Take Beautiful Waterfall Photographs? […]