I love waterfalls. And I love photographing them, too. Since I bought my new camera – the first one that I dare calling a professional camera (a Fujifilm X-T2 Mirrorless) – I started practicing on waterfalls enthusiastically. I still don’t have a tripod though, I usually just put my camera down somewhere if needed. Or hold it in my hand. Since we usually do long hikes, I’m not too eager to have something else to carry, so that’s my compromise for now.
The reason I started this post with these horrible sins is to remind you that this is not THE ultimate guide to photographing waterfalls. It’s rather just my experience as a beginner. And I’m as happy to share my newly discovered wisdom as to share my favorite pictures of pretty waterfalls from the recent past.
So here’s what I figured out about taking pictures of waterfalls or running water (yay, let’s not forget about those amazing crystal clear mountain streams!):
Capture the movement
I know that a perfect waterfall shot can be different for everyone. Even professional photographers have their different tastes and opinions. As for me, when I take picture of a waterfall or mountain stream, I want to capture movement.
ISO 200, f/22:
The picture doesn’t look real in a sense that it’s not exactly what you see when looking at it with your own eyes. But the point is to capture something in motion in a picture that is still. It’s an artistic effect. By the way, photography is an art, as well. A picture is never just the copy of reality, but a work of art – or that would be the goal, at least.
Use the lowest ISO possible
So what do you need for that nice blur that gives the impression of movement? Using the lowest ISO possible is a good start. Low ISO ensures less noise, and you have the chance to adjust aperture and shutter speed to let enough light in for a good shot. I have to make another confession here. I’ve very rarely changed shutter speed manually on my camera so far. Usually I set ISO and aperture, and let my smart little camera choose the correct shutter speed. And it’s usually fine.
ISO 200, f/9:
ISO 200, f/11:
But how low is low? I start with ISO 100 or 200 in general, and I rarely need to set it higher. Aperture varies based on the light conditions, it’s usually from f/8 to f/22. The larger that number is, the smaller the size of the opening is that lets the light in. So in bright daylight, there’s a high chance that f/22 will be the best for me (and that’s the limit of my camera, so I can’t go above that).
ISO 200, f/22:
But the precise settings for a certain shot is all about experimenting. I usually shoot with a couple of different settings, and then choose the best one later.
A cloudy day is a friend of mine
At least when I photograph waterfalls. Daylight is not really good for anything in photography, sunrise and sunset are kings. Too strong, direct sunlight doesn’t help taking a great photo with nice colors. But overcast skies are not pretty in picture either, so you usually don’t earn much if it’s not sunny. Except when it comes to waterfalls.
ISO 200, f/11:
If it’s a cloudy day, that gives you a chance to take good pictures of waterfalls all day – if you focus on the waterfall, and less on the sky. Same goes when the sun is behind the mountains with the whole waterfall in the shade. This shade helps me taking a picture in which the water is not blown out – or is it still? 😀
ISO 200, f/13:
Start with smaller cascades
My experience is that smaller cascades on a stream are easier to capture than large, magnificent waterfalls. Large waterfalls can more easily look blown out. And sometimes I can’t even frame them correctly, because from the distance I’m able to see the whole thing, I’m already too close. Then I just highlight parts of the waterfall, and it often looks better.
ISO 200, f/9:
Take care of other details
It’s a boring truth in photography. But it’s easy to forget, especially if you concentrate on your perfect waterfall settings. Notice the mossy cliffs, the fallen leaves, the colorful pebbles… Experiment with strange angles. Of course, the main attraction will be the waterfall, but these little things can make your shot unique.
ISO 200, f/3.2:
Do you like photography? Any experience with waterfalls?