Simple Rules for Shooting Waterfalls

One of my favorite subjects to photograph in nature is a waterfall. There is something so dynamic yet serene about water cascading over rocks that I just can’t resist. Perhaps its several years of drought that’s make me a little obsessive about searching out waterfalls in Texas or perhaps it just the technical challenge of capturing such a dynamic scene in static photograph. Whatever the case, waterfalls continue to fascinate me.

Getting a good shot of a waterfalls is fairly simple if you follow a few simple rules:

  • Shoot on cloudy or overcast days to cut down on the glare reflected from the water.
  • Shoot with a low ISO speed and small aperture (f/16) to provide an exposure greater than 1 second.
  • Use a polarizing filter to reduce glare and (if needed) a neutral density filter to obtain a long exposure.
  • Shoot from a tripod to eliminate camera shake during the exposure.
  • Focus manually and check your depth of field. Running water can fool your camera’s AF system.

Upper McKinney Falls – Austin, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on manual (M) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 70mm, f/16 for 10 seconds at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray Vari-ND-Duo neutral density and warming polarizer filter. All post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 Beta. Click on the image above for a larger version.

7 thoughts on “Simple Rules for Shooting Waterfalls

  1. The late Barry Thornton, in his book titled “Edge of Darkness: The Art, Craft, and Power of the High-Definition Monochrome Photograph,” outlined a different way of taking waterfall photos. It requires multiple exposures, but the results are quite visually appealing. Quoting from page 68 of his excellent book:

    “Chop the longer exposure up into multiple short exposures on the same frame i.e. multiple double exposing. So for instance, if the overall required exposure were 1/30 second at f5.6, we could try ‘building up’ the exposure with about eight exposures of 1/250 second at f5.6 on the same frame.”

    Though he was using black and white film, the same effect could be produced digitally via post-processing. (I really do wish digital cameras permitted in-camera multiple exposures.)

    The result is hard to describe without actually showing a photograph, but produces, in his opinion, a more realistic effect.

  2. Great tips, Jeff.
    Guess that I should look into bringing a tripod with me when taking walks in the country. The polarizing filter already in my wishlist…


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