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7 Effective Waterfall Photography Tips : Photography Guide


Russel Falls, Mt Field National Park, Tasmania, Australia


Do you know how to shoot waterfalls like a pro from National Geographic magazine? Have you ever wondered how those lucky professional photographers manage to shoot great photos of waterfalls that look like they are in motion? You can also take the better waterfall pictures with using a few simple tips while taking photographs. Here are 7 simple but very effective tips that will help you to take better waterfalls pictures.

Tip 1: Use a Slow Shutter Speed

Use a slow shutter speed is the most important tip for shooting waterfall photos. The slower shutter speed settings making the waterfalls look "professionally" - smooth and silky. The longer the shutter speed you select, the more pronounced the effect will be.

You also have to compensate slow shutter speed by selecting small aperture and because of that you will also get greater depth of field, thereby allowing the maximum amount of focus in your composition.

The slow shutter speed is a very relative term and it depends on the waterfall you are shooting. For big waterfalls with large water volume some times the 1/30 or 1/15 seconds shutter speed is enough. But for small streams with slow water you need to use much longer shutter speed to achieve the same effect - something like 10 seconds end even longer. Experiment and try out various speeds to see what works best for each image.

Upper Somersby Falls, Brisbane Water National Park, Central Coast, NSW, Australia
Upper Somersby Falls, Brisbane Water National Park
Central Coast, NSW, Australia
f/11, 3 seconds, ISO 200, ND8 filter


Tip 2: Use a Tripod

Shooting at slow shutter speeds requires that your camera has to be very, very steady - the best way to achieve that is to use a good tripod. Your goal is to blur the movement of the water while everything else remains in sharp focus. Without a tripod you will get a picture where everything is blurred because of the camera shake.

Also when shooting with a tripod use a remote control or shutter release. It eliminates any vibration introduced to your camera when you pressing the shutter button. It doesn't matter if you are using wired or wireless remote control if it's actually doing its job - preventing camera shake when pressing the shutter button.

Another thing that can shake your camera even if you put it onto a heavy-duty and steady tripod is wooden boardwalk in a tourist place or scenic lookouts. Avoid shooting when kids are running around and stamping their feet. Even a small tremble of the ground will blur the image in the same way as if you are handholding the camera.

Tip 3: Use filters

A Neutral Density (ND) filter is very useful for waterfall photography, especially when the scene is too bright. It darkens the image and reduces the amount of light from entering the camera without altering the color or tone of the light, thus decreasing the shutter speeds to accommodate the reduction of light. It can slow down shutter speed up to 3 stops. Usually ND8 filter is enough in most cases.

Circular Polarizer filter is very useful to cut out glare and reflections caused by the sun. It is widely used in landscape photography to darken blue sky, enhance colors and increase contrast. Mostly it's used on sunny days but even on overcast days it will help you to eliminate glare on rocks. A typical Circular Polarizer will slow down shutter speed by 1.5 or 2.5 stops.

You can also stack a ND filter and a Polarizer together to get much slower speed and take off glare at the same time.

Sylvia Falls, Valley of the Waters, Wentworth Falls, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia
Sylvia Falls, Valley of the Waters
Wentworth Falls, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia
f/11, 1 second, ISO 200


Tip 4: Right weather

Many waterfalls are found in forest, or in heavily wooded areas. That means the same rules of lighting that apply to forest photography also apply to waterfall photos. Cloudy and overcast days are ideal for photographing waterfalls. This helps make the scene darker and the low light conditions affect exposure by slowing down shutter speed.

Don't shoot waterfall photos in bright light i.e., in the mid-day. Bright light can create high contrast and this will overexposure white water and underexposure dark shadows. It's also difficult to get proper slow shutter speed on bright light even with using ND filters and small aperture.

Early morning or late evening is also a good time for taking such pictures as the Sun has gone behind the trees. Early or late hours will also "remove" tourists I mentioned in the tip 2.

Lower Somersby Falls, Brisbane Water National Park, Central Coast, NSW, Australia
Lower Somersby Falls, Brisbane Water National Park
Central Coast, NSW, Australia
f/11, 6 seconds, ISO 200, ND8 and CPol filters


Tip 5: Right season

Drought or dry season without rains can spoil your photo. Waterfalls that are usually beautiful can be very bored without flowing water. I'm not talking about Victoria Falls or Niagara Falls. Such waterfalls always have enough water but small falls can suffer without rains. It's difficult to believe that dry season can dramatically change a powerful waterfall into a small and slow stream.

Tip 6: Composition

You can shoot horizontal or vertical. That depends on the waterfall you are shooting. In most cases a vertical shot will work. If it is a wide waterfall then horizontal shot may work well. Try and include some foreground if you can to create more interest.

Lodore Falls, Valley of the Waters, Wentworth Falls, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia
Lodore Falls, Valley of the Waters
Wentworth Falls, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia
f/11, 1 second, ISO 200


Get closer and look for small parts of the waterfall that make an interesting composition. A group of rocks near the bottom with the water quickly running over them can make as nice a shot as the whole waterfall.

Weeping Rock, Valley of the Waters, Wentworth Falls, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia
Weeping Rock, Valley of the Waters
Wentworth Falls, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia
ISO 200, f/14, 2 sec, ND8 filter


It doesn't matter what you are shooting - composition is a key factor. So spend some time and read a few good books on composition in photography.

Tip 7: Practice

Practice, practice and practice again. Without practice you will not get better results. The old adage about practice makes perfect applies to photography as well. So, try and try until you get the best pictures.

Good luck with shooting waterfalls!

PS. All small images are clickable. Bigger picture will open in a new window.
PPS. The top photo is Russel Falls, Mt Field National Park, Tasmania, Australia. ISO200, f/16, 5 second.

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