There is something magical about a cascade waterfall spilling over a cliff. Whether it’s a huge waterfall or a gentle trickle, capturing the waterfall photography effect that you want is easy once you know a few simple tricks on how to photograph waterfalls.
The options range from a smooth flow that looks as though the water is blanketing whatever rocks it flows over, to a freeze-frame that highlights individual water drops.
Above all, you need to understand both the camera settings for waterfalls based on the effect you want to achieve and the gear you have. Importantly, while having the right gear is helpful, anyone can take better waterfall photos with a few simple adjustments.
Regardless of your camera, you probably have more control than you realise.
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How to photograph waterfalls that appear smooth flowing
If you want the effect of smooth water
you need to use a slower shutter speed.
Here are the basics if you have a DSLR, SLR, or another camera that can be set to manual. How to photograph waterfalls, so the water appears as a smooth flow:
- Camera Mode: manual
- Aperture: f14 to f18 (you want the maximum in focus at the optimal aperture for your camera)
- ISO: Smallest available on your camera.
- Shutter speed if handheld: 1/30 or the slowest speed you can handle. Ideally, use a tripod and an ND filter and start out with a 2-3 second shot. Bracket and experiment with the light.
- Shutter speed if tripod and ND filter: 2-3 seconds. Bracket and experiment with the light.
- Either use a shutter release cable or set the camera to self-timer.
Waterfall photography shutter speed adjustments and their effect – regardless of your camera type
I have carried a tripod to capture one motion waterfall picture. The average person cannot hold a camera steady for longer than 1/30 second and will use a tripod starting at 1/20 seconds.
- If you have a DSLR or mirrorless camera and are comfortable shooting in manual, use the camera settings for waterfalls listed above.
- If you typically keep your camera in automatic mode, you might want to set the camera to “S” for shutter priority. This will allow you to set the shutter speed while the camera makes the rest of the adjustments. If you are taking a handheld shot, try it first at 1/20 second. To help yourself stay steady, hold the camera with both hands, elbows down at your side, and gently hold your breath before you take the shot. If your image is in focus, try again at 1/15 seconds. Or, if your original shot is blurry, try again at 1/30 second.
- If you have a tripod, set your camera on shutter priority, and set the shutter no faster than 1/20 second. I usually start at 1/5 seconds or slower if I have an ND filter. If it is too bright, try a shorter time.
- If you have a point and shoot camera this effect is a bit more difficult, as they are not designed for tripod shots. Your best option is the setting for the lowest light, either candlelight or night shooting. However, if this triggers your flash, you could try covering it up.
How to photograph waterfalls with water droplets
If you want to freeze the water droplets,
you need to use a faster shutter speed.
- Similar to the above, set your DSLR or mirrorless camera to “S” for shutter priority. Set your shutter speed to 1/100 to get started.
- If you have a point and shoot camera you can trick your camera into a faster shutter speed by putting it in sports mode.
More tips on how to photograph waterfalls
- Think about the foreground and background when composing your shot. Also, if you don’t have filters with you, choose a spot offering more light.
- The rainy season means better flowing waterfalls. Take a look at these four New Zealand falls shot in both summer and winter.
- The final secret to great photos is photo editing. I always use Adobe Lightroom, as it not only has all the professional and simplified editing tools I will ever need (it’s on a subscription with regular updates), but it also stores, labels, and easily watermarks my images on export. Best of all, it is non-destructive, meaning you always have your original image as shot, should you need it. Check out Lightroom.
More examples of how to photograph waterfalls
Take a look at a few amazing waterfalls. See if you can spot which were handheld and which are long exposure waterfall shots, then check out the specs below each image.
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