Summer time is a great time to go explore your local waterfall. Warmer weather, greener trees, and more water from rain and snow melt. Here are some tips to capture some great images on your next waterfall adventure.
You want to control your Shutter speed. This is how you get the silky smooth waterfall effect or maybe you want to capture the power of the waterfall so you want to stop the action.
First step is to become familiar with how to change your shutter speed on your camera. Shutter speed on a Nikon camera is adjusted using S=Shutter speed Priority. You can pick which shutter speed you would like to use and the camera will adjust the other features to pick an exposure for your shot. On a Canon it is TV=time value on a Sony it is S=Shutter speed.
I will always start by shooting a 1 second image at first so I can view my composition and double check focus. When checking the composition I am looking at the water to see how it looks. From that I will slow down the shutter 3 and 5 seconds or speed up the shutter speed to get a visually stunning image. When using longer exposures always make sure you take multiple images in case you bump your tripod or the wind moves the tripod. I will also try some longer exposures 20-30 seconds if the water is slow. I will use shutter speed priority setting on my camera but if I need to I will switch to manual. I keep my ISO at 100 unless I need that light and will bump it up. Try different exposure bump up the ISO and see what it looks like. I will also try a few faster shutter speeds to capture the power of the waterfalls. Try 1/250 of a second then go faster around 1/2000 of a second. Compare and see which shutter speed you like.
Make sure to always shoot a few horizontal and a few vertical images. Zoom in or zoom out. I always start away from the waterfall and work my way closer. Why? The closer you are the more chances of getting water on your lens.
Change your perspective get lower to the ground. Jump in the water and capture the rocks in the foreground and have the waterfall in the background. Create depth in your image so it seems 3d instead of a 2d image. Walk all around the waterfall looking for a scene that captures your interest.
I currently use Nikon D780 but any camera today will work great for waterfall photography. The key is to become familiar with how to change shutter speeds on your camera. Next learn how to connect a tripod and a remote release to your camera.
The best camera lens you can use is the one you have. Don’t be afraid to try different focal lengths with your lens. I always start with a longer lens at first so I don’t get my camera too wet at the beginning. Then I work my way close using a wider lens. This is another key to keep your lens dry. What lens do I like? I try and figure that out when I show up to the waterfall and see what focal length creates a great composition.
Connecting your camera to a tripod is the next thing you can do to improve your shots. Using a tripod you can keep your camera steady when using longer exposures to prevent camera shake. You will need a tripod when shooting slower shutter speeds like 1/60 of a second to 30 seconds. This is a big help when you want to shoot 30 second exposures like below at Blackwater Falls State Park.
I also recommend using a remote or cable release to use when hitting the shutter button. If you forgot yours try the timer on your camera. I use 5 seconds timer and have the camera take 5 consecutive photos. This will also help cut down on camera shake and keep your images tack sharp.
Filters in front of your lens. I use a polarizing filter or ND filter and sometime a combo of both. The polarizing filter will help cut down on the reflections on the water and darken the image to help extend your exposure to create that smooth silky waterfall look. ND filter are darker and help you select longer shutter speeds.
Your phone or Camera? This is the great challenge. Do you want to travel light? Take your phone and find a nice tree or rock to stand against when taking the photo. They have small tripods now for you to use. I always take my phone and take a few photos or videos.
Be careful and keep the water from landing on your camera lens. I always start with shooting at a far distance and then get closer. The closer you are to the falls the more chance you have of water splashing onto your lens. I always have a few lens cloths to clean my lens when I get drops on it. You can see in the image below I got a water spot in the upper right corner.
Time of Day?
When to shoot waterfalls? Rainy days or cloudy days are the best. Why? Waterfalls are usually surrounded by trees or in gorges. When the sun is out you will find distractions shadows in your images. This can be resolved by shooting early or late in the day when the sun is too low to create shadows. Depending on the falls it is good to go after a rain storm to make sure the water flows is high enough.
Have the right outerwear…..
Stay dry unless it is a million degrees outside and have the right footware. Rocks are very slick when wet, I fell at Ohiopyle last summer and hit my head against a rock because I was wearing flipflops. I usually wear muck boots or NRS watershoes with Yaktracs on them. Prepare for colder temps near waterfalls since they are in gorges. You will get wet so take a rain coat or something that is fast drying. I always have a winter hat and gloves in my car or camera bag. The warmer and dryer you stay the longer you will stay out and enjoy the waterfall. More time equals more photos.
Check out some of my waterfalls on my website https://www.brandonhirt.com or https://www.brandonhirtphoto.com
Happy Waterfall Image Creating