Shooting Waterfalls – 31+ Days To Better Photography

Yesterday’s Topic: A Rule Of Thumb To Help Stop Photo Blur

Let’s take a break from the technical side of things and play a bit.

Waterfalls.

I go chasing them. I don’t stick to the rivers and the lakes that I’m used to.

This is because I live near a mountain range named the Cascades, as in cascading water. I also admit to being a fan of the silky motion waterfall unless I’m trying to show power, and then it is better to stop action. While keeping an eye on aperture for depth of field, control of shutter speed is important here to achieve the blur of motion many desire. If that’s not your thing, you may want to skip this post.

A tripod is almost mandatory for this type of shooting because you will be using slow shutter speeds. A good starting point is 1/10th of a second and working slower. Anything faster than 1/10th and the action starts to be frozen. Here’s a one-two comparison of Escondida Waterfall in Costa Rica. The first shot is at 1/13 and the second shot is at 1/100.

To me, the second photo needs to be even faster to stop the motion of the waterfall completely and 1/100 isn’t doing it. 1/13 is starting to get into the realm of silky. To really capture power, it helps to have massive volume and a higher shutter speed. Yellowstone Falls in Wyoming is a classic example. Shot at f/8, ISO 100, and 1/250.

To me this image works because of the mass of water. If there were little rivulets streaming down, it’s not as massive. Likewise, I think this shot slowed to 1/5 would not translate well because the white would become overpowering within the frame. In essence, too much water blur.

Slowing things down works for falls that have multiple small, focused streaming running over the edge, such as Koosah Falls in Oregon. Shot at ISO 100, f/22 and .5 seconds.

Or Proxy Falls, also in Oregon. ISO 100, f/11, .3 seconds

More than just an exhibition of pretty waterfall pictures I have taken, I hope this has visually helped explain how slightly different shutter speed, which controls blur, can add life to a waterfall picture.

Some waterfall photography tips:

  • Try to shoot from an area where you are not directly in the spray coming off the fall. Try is the operative word here.
  • Use a tripod.
  • Take some time to examine the fall before setting up.
  • Watch the light. If you can, avoid shooting in mid day as the falls will be too bright when blurred.
  • Add some life to the frame. A singular shot of the fall, showing it splashing into the pool, gets old after a while. Add some spice.
  • Waterfalls are not yeti showers, you will not find them here.

Next Up: Get Close, Go Wide

31 Days To Better Photography is a series written by professional photographer Peter West Carey on The Carey Adventures.Com. The series is designed to unravel the mysteries of photography so you can take better pictures. Subscribe here to receive all the updates and bonus material. Your comments are always welcome.

4 Replies to “Shooting Waterfalls – 31+ Days To Better Photography”

  1. Victoria Bell

    This is funny. I was just yesterday trying to take shoots of a stream that is on my property. Thanks for the tips. Maybe I will be able to achive what I was trying to do.

    Reply
  2. susan blatchford

    This was a great post! I’m stuck in dreary old Michigan, so I’m not sure if this was worth more for being packed full of information, or for its helpful fantasy inducing quality!
    Either way, I enjoyed it very much. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

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