This is part of my how to photograph… section.

Waterfalls are challenging, and beautiful, in a simple way. They often present challenging light situations, and it is also hard to capture their unique, simple beauty unless you are well prepared. Take heed of my tips below, and you will be ready to go!

When presented with a moving subject, in this case water, a photographer has two options. Either to freeze the motion, and stop the water in its tracks, or to allow motion blur. In the case of waterfalls, most photographers choose to allow the water to blur. I will discuss both options below.

  • Switch to shutter speed priority, so that you have control of the shutter speed, and choose a fast shutter speed of about 1/500 or more for sharp water, or 1 to 2 seconds if you want nicely blurred water.
  • Use a polarizer filter, this will really help. A polarizer filter does not affect colour, instead it removes polarization, and reduces unwanted reflections. May darken sky.

Blurring water for the effect of motion

  • Low ISO – This will ensure that the shot is less noisy, and will have nice detail. It will also make the sensor less sensitive, meaning that the sensor has to remain open longer to allow enough light in.
  • Long shutter speed – This will ensure that you have nice, soft water.
  • TRIPOD!!! – You cant forget this one! This will ensure that your shot is not affected by camera shake, and this in turn will keep the rest of the shot sharp.
  • If its a bright and sunny day, your biggest problem is likely to overexposure. With the shutter open for several seconds, too much light will hit hit sensor.
  • Try to photograph waterfalls at sunset or sunrise, or on overcast days. This will allow you to use longer shutter speeds.
  • Filters – A filter cuts down the amount of light entering the camera, a polarizer filter is good because it lessens the light, and also reduces reflections.
  • ND – Neutral Density filters are great for long exposures, because that is their purpose – cutting down the amount of light.
  • If you are still having problems, switch to aperture priority mode and set the aperture to the smallest possible, usually f/22 or f/36.
  • Braketing your shots, this is discussed in my article on drive modes, is also very helpful.
  • Dont become obsessed with blurred waterfalls! Use fast shutter speeds too, because, even though silky smooth water looks pretty, it is not the only option available!

Sharp Falls

The principle is pretty simple, a fast shuter speed! In this case, problems tend to be encountered at especially fast falls, because you need a very fast shutter speed to keep them sharp. This means that less light enters the camera, so going on a bright, sunny day helps. 

Raising the ISO helps too, but this should not be over exaggerated, or shots will be too noisy. A wider aperture lets in more light, but has a shallower depth of field, so keeps less of the waterfall in focus so you should proceed with caution.

Dont just fill up on theory, go and experiment!! Good Luck!