How to photograph waterfalls | Photo by @paulyvella

How to photograph waterfalls like a pro

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There’s nothing more exhilarating as a photographer, than being deep in a rainforest, focusing my camera on a waterfall, triggering the shutter and then after a few seconds, looking at the exposed image – which has captured the waterfall in all its glory.

People often ask how to achieve the smooth, dreamy look. Well, here are a few tips that might help. The good news is, it’s not as hard as it looks!

What equipment will I need?

  • DSLR camera
  • Always use a tripod! The camera needs to be perfectly still, as any movement will blur the entire image, not just the water.
  • Cable or wireless shutter remote. Even pressing the shutter button can create movement in the camera. Alternatively, you can also use the camera’s inbuilt shutter-release timer. Most cameras have a 2-second and 10-second timer.
  • Neutral density filter (ND) and/or a Circular Polarising Filter (CPL). An ND filter helps you to control the amount of light entering the lens allowing you to slow shutter speed (see below). A CPL filter will not only give you 1-2 more stops, it will also reduce glare on the water and make flora ‘pop’! I tend to use a 3-stop ND filter.
Coomera Gorge, Lamington National Park. Photo by @swaller4

Coomera Gorge, Lamington National Park. Photo by @swaller4

What settings should I use?

When it comes to photographing waterfalls it’s all about shutter speed! To get that smooth effect, you need a slow shutter speed. To achieve this, set your camera to its lowest ISO setting. In most cameras this will usually be 100.

Next, adjust your camera’s aperture. This is the hole in your lens through which light travels. The smaller the hole, the higher the f-stop number. We’re after a higher f-stop number. Anywhere between f11 and f18 is a good starting point. If you need extra f-stop that’s where your ND and CPL filters come into play.

The length of your exposure will depend on whether you want some texture or detail in the flowing water or you prefer completely smooth. The waterfall itself will become blurred with a shutter speed of .3 of a second. But if you want to remove the detail and completely smooth out the water, start at say 4 seconds and increase from there.

Ithaca Creek Mt Coot-tha

Ithaca Creek, Mt Coot-tha. Photo by @swaller4

What are the best conditions for shooting waterfalls?

If you don’t have the right conditions even the best equipment in the world won’t give the results you hope to achieve. You want diffused light across your scene. Shooting on an overcast day is perfect, particularly when shooting in a rainforest.

Where can I chase waterfalls in Queensland?

Glad you asked! Here are a few suggestions we prepared earlier:

In a nutshell, you need the following to shoot a waterfall:

  1. Low ISO e.g. 100 and an aperture of around f18
  2. A tripod
  3. Shoot on an overcast day
Wallaman Falls Townsville - Photo by @lovethywalrus

Wallaman Falls, Girrigun National Park, Townsville. Photo by @lovethywalrus

What if I only have an iPhone? Can I create the same effect?

Paul Fleming (@lovethywalrus) shares his tips on sexy, silky and smooth water shots from a smartphone here and recommends the following apps and tips to create the dream-like effect:

  1. To capture moving water: Average Camera Pro or Slow Shutter
  2. Editing: Adobe Photoshop Express, Snapseed or ProHDRX
  3. Always use a sturdy tripod like a Joby SLR-Zoom Gorillapod

Waterfall photography tips [INFOGRAPHIC]

How to photograph waterfalls infographic

Got some waterfall photos you’d like to share? Add your link in the comments below.