10 Tips for Waterfall Photography

February 06, 2014
As you can tell from my web page, I do like to take a waterfall photo or two, so I created a list of a few tips that I use why taking waterfall photos that help me and hopefully can help you.
 
 
1) Essential Gear

a. Most waterfall photos are taking with a long exposure so a tripod is a must (a light carbon fiber vs. a heavier aluminum, I will leave that to another blog entry) along with a cable / shutter release.

b. Varying degrees of neutral density filters. I use a Cokin holder, that way I can add additional filters to get my shutter speed where I need it. ND are a must have on a sunny day and on a cloudy day, you can get that shutter speed down really slow.
 
c. A wide angle lens, that way you can get close and get everything in you field of view.
 
d. Honorable mention – Polarizer, it is not really a must but it does come in handy
 
 
2) Get wet!
 
Getting into the water can get you a perspectives that you just can't on the side of the bank.
 
In this photo of Falls Gap Falls, WV I was up to my waist in cold autumn water.
 
Falls at Falls Gap 3Falls at Falls Gap 3Falls Gap, WV
 
Be safe though, if the water current looks strong, rocks slick, or you have difficulty getting into the location, then don’t get it.
 
In this photo of Douglas Falls in Thomas, WV I couldn't get into the water, it was moving strong and had no real way to get in, so I put my tripod right on the edge of the stream and hung the camera over to get that water coming towards me look.
 
Douglas Falls 6Douglas Falls 6Douglas Falls near Thomas, WV
 
 
Remember to bring appropriate clothing: Waders (I myself don’t use them much unless the water is really cold) Me, I usually have along an older pair of shoes or shoes made for water and a fresh pair for driving in. If it is summer and I am in shorts, I don’t really care much about being wet, in the spring and fall I carry a change of pants.
 
3) Experiment with you shutter speed
 
When I take a waterfall usually my ISO is set at 100 and since I love strong depth of field my aperture starts at f/16. Most of my exposure adjustment is from the shutter speed. I use ¼ sec. for my base and work from there.
 
This photos was taken at Dunloup Creek near Thurmond, WV, ¼ sec @ f/16
Dunloup Creek Cascades 1Dunloup Creek Cascades 1Thurmond, WV
 
This photo at Valley Falls State Park WV, 120 sec @f/16
 
Valley Falls SpringValley Falls SpringValley Falls State Park, WV
 
Notice the longer exposure creates an almost foggy look to the water and the shorter exposure keeps more detail in the water.
 
4) Framing:
 
Try framing  falls with adjacent rocks or foliage. Even cutting off some of the waterfall makes for an interesting composition.
 
Dunloup Falls near Thurmond, WV 
 
Dunloup Creek Falls 2Dunloup Creek Falls 2Thurmond, WV
 
5) Think Different
 
Walk around, look for different angles, try to take a photo that is not what you would think of for a typical waterfall.
 
This photo was taking standing on the edge of Pendleton Falls at Blackwater Falls State Park look down the waterfall itself.
 
Pendleton Run Falls Black and WhitePendleton Run Falls Black and WhiteBlackwater Falls State Park, WV
 
6) Look for Eddy
 
He is hard to spot but a long exposure might make him show up. In a long exposure the eddy can make the bubbles in the water turn into a circular pattern in the image. If there are leaves in the water, they will create an interesting swirl of colors.
 
This photo was taken at Elakala Falls in Blackwater Falls State Park, WV
 
Autumn at Elakala Falls 4Autumn at Elakala Falls 4Blackwater Falls SP, WV
 
7) Don’t blow out the highlights.
 
So you are in a gully that is in shade taken a shot of a smaller fall, you expose for the scene and the highlights get blown out since the camera used Evaluative Metering. How to relive this, spot meter for the highlights on the water and since you camera now sees that as your middle grey tone you can now +1 or +2 EV  your exposure and now the highlights are not blow out. Take a few photos at different exposures and check the histogram for blown out highlight, that’s what it is there for.
 
8) Seasons and times of day:
 
Not so important to me. I do like a nice overcast days for taking waterfalls but most of the time Mother Nature does what she wants. There are times you just can’t be there when you want to, life and work gets in the way. Get to your location and adjust for the environment. Nice sunny day right at noon, use those ND and polarizer filters, don’t shot into the sun. If you getting harsh shadows try to get creative with them, work with what you got. Elliot Porter took some of his best photos at noon on a sunny day. 
 
Bring gear and be prepared if the weather changes, rain…snow… 
 
Examples:
 
This photo was taken on a sunny winter day around 2:00pm at Arden, WV 
 
Moats Fall Winter 2013 3Moats Fall Winter 2013 3Moats Fall, Arden, WV
 
 
This photo was taken on a sunny fall day around 1:00pm along Otter Creek, WV
 
Otter Creek BlueOtter Creek BlueOtter Creek Wilderness, WV
 
This photo was taken on a warm  sunny August day right at Noon at Valley Falls State Park, WV. I used the harsh lighting and shadows to create a dramatic scene. 
 
Valley Falls Summer 2012 4Valley Falls Summer 2012 4Valley Falls State Park, WV
 
 
In the rain at Valley Falls State Park. (yes that is water on the lens, I kind of like it)
 
 
 
9) Get Info:
 
Research an area for waterfalls, read books, look at maps, search the internet. If there is a waterfall I am interested in I try to find as much info as I can about it, how to get there, if there are any other waterfalls to take along the way. When I plan a trip I like to hit multiple waterfalls in the area. Look at a map to see where the sun will be when you visit. You can’t do enough research. 
 
 
 
10) White Balance:
 
In post production be sure to white balance you image. They don’t call it white water for nothing. I try to stay away from my water being a warm tone and use cool tones only if the falls are in shade or in winter when a little blue tint gives scene a even colder look.
 
Taken at Blackwater Falls State Park, WV
 
Autumn Blackwater Falls 1Autumn Blackwater Falls 1Blackwater Falls State Park, WV
 
 
 

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