Photographing Waterfalls


I love photographing waterfalls! There’s nothing more exhilarating, for me as a photographer, then being deep in a rainforest, focusing my camera on a waterfall, triggering the shutter and then after a few seconds looking at the exposured image which ha captured the waterfall in a dream like state. People often ask how you achieve the smooth dreamy look. Well, here are a few tips that might help – the good news is that it’s not as hard as it looks!

Hopetoun Falls

What Equipment will I need?

  • DSLR camera
  • Always use a tripod! The camera needs to be perfectly still, any movement will blur the entire image not just the water.
  • Cable or Wireless shutter remote. Even pressing the shutter button can create movement in the camera. Alternatively, you can also use the camera’s inbuilt shutter release timer. Most camera have a 2 second and 10 second timer.
  • A neutral density filter (ND) and/or a Circular Polarising Filter (CPL). An ND filter helps you to control the amount of light entering the lens allowing you to slow shutter speed (see below). A CPL filter will not only give you 1-2 more stops it will also reduce glare on the water and make flora ‘pop’! I tend to use a 3 stop ND filter.

What settings should I use?

When it comes to photographing waterfalls it’s all about shutter speed! To get that smooth looking effect you need a slow shutter speed. To achieve this firstly set your camera to its lowest ISO setting. In most camera’s this will usually be 100. 

Next adjust your camera’s aperture.  This is the hole in your lens through which light travels. The smaller the hole, the higher the f-stop number. We’re after a higher f-stop number. Any where between f11 and f18 is a good starting point. If you need extra f-stop that’s where your ND and CPL filters come into play.

The length of your exposure will depend on whether you want some texture or detail in the flowing water or completely smooth. The waterfall itself will become ‘blurred’ with a shutter speed of .3 of a second. But if you want to remove the detail and completely smooth out the water, start at say 4 seconds and increase from there.

What are the best conditions to photograph waterfalls?

If you don’t have the right conditions even the best equipment in the world won’t give the results you hope to achieve. You want diffused light right across your scene. Shooting on an overcast day is perfect, particularly when shooting in a rainforest.

I hope this has been helpful.

In a nutshell you need the following things to shoot a waterfall – 

1) Low ISO eg 100 and an aperture of say f18 

2) A tripod! 

3) Shoot on an overcast day

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