Digital Photography – How to Take Great Waterfall Photos

Waterfalls seem to grab the hearts and minds of people. Go to any location that has one or more waterfalls and it is pretty much a guarantee that they will be a major attraction, if not the main attraction, of the area. However, as beautiful as waterfalls are, it is not so easy to capture that beauty with a camera. It is easy to produce pictures of waterfalls; it is not so easy to produce powerful images. Waterfalls provide their own unique set of problems which requires a unique set of solutions. This article is about those unique problems and the solutions that allow photographers to produce images that communicate the power and beauty that is inherent in the waterfalls that stand before their lenses. Part 1 of this two part series concentrates on setting up for the waterfall shoot. Part 2 will concentrate on capturing the waterfall image.

Weather

Weather plays a huge part in producing great waterfall images. Quite simply, waterfalls do not photograph well in nice, sunny weather. The best time to photograph waterfalls is in overcast weather.

Some waterfalls will photograph best in light overcast. Light overcast produces a light that is gentle but which still has enough power to bring out the colors in a scene. Other waterfalls photograph best in strong overcast. Strong overcast can produce a very moody image with a power to convey that sense of mood in an image. In fact, very powerful waterfall images can even be produced in rainy weather (during a break in the rain).

An Old Filter

One of the major challenges in photographing waterfalls has to do with water getting on the lens (or the filter in front of the lens). Powerful waterfalls can drop huge amounts of water which produces a mist. In other cases, the weather may produce fog, drizzle, or rain that gets on the lens. All of this can be exacerbated by wind (which always seems to be pointed directly toward my lens).

A partial solution is to place an old, clear filter in front of the lens while the equipment is being set up. Once the photographer is ready to go, the photographer will need to remove the filter from the lens in order to take the shot.

Tripod

Don’t even think of photographing a waterfall without a tripod. A large part of the nature of waterfalls is the movement of the water. This movement is most often captured with shutter speeds that are slow enough that clear images can not be produced with a handheld camera.

White Balance

The lighting involved with waterfall shots can be tricky. In overcast or rainy conditions, the light will likely have a blue tint. If the waterfall is in a forest, the light may bounce off the trees and pick up a green tint. Neither the auto white balance nor the preset white balance options on a camera will guarantee accurate white balance. The best solution is to perform a manual white balance (your camera manual will explain how for your particular camera).

Polarizer

Objects that are wet tend to produce glare. This glare is often polarized. This is particularly an issue with waterfall shots because the rocks and vegetation near the waterfall will be wet and will almost certainly have a certain amount of glare. A polarizer will remove the glare. In addition, a polarizer has a secondary effect. By removing the glare, the color saturation will improve.

Bubble Level

Sadly, the human eye is not a very good judge of whether a camera is level. Luckily, a bubble level is designed specifically for leveling a camera. A bubble level is an inexpensive, small, easy to use device that fits into the hot shoe of a camera and allows a photographer to verify that the camera is level. It works in the same way as a carpenter’s bubble level. Simply center the bubble between the lines and the camera is leveled.

Summary

The camera should now be properly set up for the waterfall shoot. Part 2 of this article will delve into how to actually capture great waterfall images.