Waterfalls are one the best natural subjects that have enticed all sorts of photographers, from professional nature photographers to amateurs & travel photographers. With a few professional waterfall photography tips, you can take stunning photos of waterfalls.
The most important element that makes a waterfall so exciting is flowing water. And so most of the professional waterfall photography tips will be centered around how you can best capture the elegance of this motion.
The professional waterfall photography gears:
Your photography gears will vary depending on whether you are only preparing to photograph waterfalls or whether you are hiking or traveling with your family. Typically on hiking or family vacations you have to do with the most basic of photography gears, whereas when you are planning only to go out & photograph waterfalls, you can go for elaborate professional nature photography gears.
Camera – any type of camera will do except for the point & shoot cameras (but there are ways you can use these point & shoot cameras too, like your phone cameras, to get wonderful waterfall photos).
Tripod – depending on your camera, you have to choose your tripod. For travelers & hikers who are carrying professional SLR cameras, carbon-fiber or aluminum tripods could help save a lot of weight.
TTL Flash – I would recommend that you use a good flash, where you can control the amount of flash light. For very creative waterfall photography, you should carry either an off-camera flash cord, or be able to fire the flash remotely.
Filters – warming filters (81A or 81B), circular polarizer and 2 stop or 3 stop neutral density (and possibly gradual neutral density) filters help. If you are like me and like to spend more time photographing than on your computer manipulating images digitally, you have to make the final photograph in your camera & that makes it essential to carry a few filters.
5 Professional Waterfall Photography Tips
- Only shoot on overcast or cloudy days. If you are photographing waterfalls during your hike or family vacation you cannot always have the luxury of an overcast sky. In that case, try to photograph waterfalls either early morning or later afternoon where you can eliminate strong reflections and harsh shadows.
- Go close to the waterfall & choose unusual angles of view. Take time to find the right spot, especially one that not many people would usually go, or views that lie off the beaten path. I usually walk up and down the waterfall to find a few places that would give me a unique angle.
- Keep lens distortion to a minimum. If you are shooting close you would probably be using a professional wide angle lens or any of the professional ultra wide angle lenses. Very wide angle lenses could distort the images (bulging or sucking-in) of parallel lines that would ruin your waterfall photo. One of the easiest ways to check is to align any near by trees parallel to your side frames.
- Watch for frame edge vignetting. This is especially true when you are using a wide angle lens or an ultra wide angle lens with additional filters mounted on top. I have seen many photographers forget to look at the edges while photographing only to come back home and realize that they need to crop out the edges. If you are sure to use a stack of filters, the safest focal length of go for is 24mm or above, where the possibility of vignetting is minimum.
- Compose with harmonious elements. A waterfall is enticing but what captivates a viewer is the waterfall and the surroundings together. A tree, fallen leaves, a large stone etc in the frame makes an exciting composition. If you are in a place that has lots of tourists, try to compose creatively with people in your frame. For waterfalls that are quite far from your spot, you could find an interesting foreground element to be part of your composition.
Most of the cameras would find the best exposure for your composition on spot metering mode, that is if you follow the golden rule & meter for nearby shadows.
Many of the professional cameras & lenses that come with IS (Image Stabilization) or VR (Vibration Reduction) capabilities might entice you to shoot handheld. I would always recommend using a steady support for the simple reason that to get the elegance in the water’s motion, you need to shoot from 1.3″ upwards. No IS or VR could compensate for those sort of timings.
The best seasons to shoot stunning waterfall photos is generally the middle or end of summer, where the water is expected to be low and provide you with more creative options of photographing its motion.