Rick's Quick Tips for Making Wonderful Waterfall Photographs

Iceland. Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 17-40mm lens. Shutter speed: 2.5 seconds.

Iceland. Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 17-40mm lens. Shutter speed: 2.5 seconds.

Shooting at a slow shutter speed is the key to capturing the beauty of a waterfall. The shutter speed at which you shoot can range from 1/5th of a second to 15 seconds, and even longer.

The shutter speed you choose depends on the two things: 1) the desired effect: the longer the shutter speed, the smoother and softer the water appears in your photograph; and 2) the movement of the water: when the water is moving fast, you’ll need a longer shutter speed than when the water is moving slowly.

My advice is to photograph a waterfall using several different slow shutter speeds, and then choose the image/effect you like best once you are back home and sitting at your computer monitor.

Croton on Hudson, NY. Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 25-105mm IS lens. Shutter speed: 5 seconds.

Croton on Hudson, NY. Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 25-105mm IS lens. Shutter speed: 5 seconds.

Using slow shutter speeds requires using a tripod. To prevent camera shake during long exposures, use a cable release, a remote release app, or your camera’s self-timer.

On sunny days, even if you set your ISO to 100 and your aperture to f/22, you may not be able to shoot at a slow enough shutter speed to blur the water. In that situation, use a Variable Neutral Density (ND) filter.

An ND filter reduces the amount of light entering your lens so you can shoot at slow shutter speeds. A variable ND filter lets you control (dial in) the desired amount of light reduction. I use a Tiffen 2-8 stop Variable ND filter. To reduction reflections on water, use a Tiffen polarizing filter.

If you don’t own a ND filter, shoot before sunrise and after sunset on sunny days – when the light level is low.

Keep your camera’s highlight alert on. Check to make sure highlights are not overexposed and washed out.

When shooting near waterfalls, keep a lens cleaning cloth handy. The smallest water droplet on your lens can look like a big blog in your pictures. Clean your lens often!

Sometimes you need to be in the water when photographing waterfalls. Knee-high rubber are one choice for keeping your toes dry. Neos, collapsible waterproof boots are another.

I teach waterfall photography on my workshops. I hope to see you on one soon!

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Explore the light,
Rick

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