Photographing Waterfalls

December 16, 2015  •  Leave a Comment
Recently I’ve been getting a lot of questions regarding waterfall photography. I have to say, this is one of my favorite types of photographs to create. While I’m by no means an expert, I have had some success in capturing nice waterfall images. The first thing I do is identify the type of waterfall I am going to photograph. For me, this comes down to two options, “Large and Powerful” or “Small and Graceful”.
Small and Graceful
For this type of waterfall, I believe that long shutter speeds and soft, diffused light are the keys to getting the image. I usually shoot this type of waterfall early in the morning. Very often, right after sunrise. This helps me get longer shutter speeds. I also use a polarizer to help lengthen my shutter speed and also to cut the reflection coming off the wet rocks. If the sky is overcast, that is another bonus. It too helps with longer shutter speeds and has the added benefit of allowing me to see into the shadows while not forcing me to blow out the whites from the flowing water. My goal is to achieve a shutter speed somewhere from 1/4 to 2 seconds in length, at my desired aperture.
Middle Falls, Old Man's CaveMiddle Falls, Old Man's CaveHocking Hills Ohio
 
Large and Powerful
This is a different beast all together. In this case I usually want to convey power and speed. With the water current’s strength and the volume of water flowing over the falls, as in the case of the Lower Falls in Yellowstone, how can one not focus on its power and grandeur? So here, I use faster shutter speeds. I don’t want to absolutely freeze the water in position, but then again I also don’t want to veil the water and give it that milky look that I like for small waterfalls. If you freeze the water too much, you’ll loose that sense of motion and thereby loose the feeling of its power. For these larger waterfalls I’m looking for a shutter speed of approximately 1/13 to 1/20 of a second.
Lower FallsLower FallsLocated in what is commonly referred to as the "Grand Canyon of Yellowstone".
 
Keep in mind that these are just my preferences. If you’ve never photographed waterfalls before, you might want to use these ideas as a starting point. But eventually, you’ll want to start experimenting to find out what works for you in expressing the feelings you have when standing in the presence of these wonderful scenes.

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