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5 Tips for Photographing Waterfalls


Bridal Veil Falls in Waikato, New Zealand
Bridal Veil Falls, Waikato, New Zealand

Waterfalls are exciting subjects for landscape photographers offering variety, challenge and huge reward when we get a great shot. From the thunderous roar of cascading water to the subtle play of light and shadow, photographing waterfalls requires a mixture of technical skills and good composition. In this post we cover five essential tips to capturing great waterfall photographs.


#1 - overcast, soft or flat light is great light


Landscape photography is often about capturing photographs in dramatic light, but with waterfalls we actually want overcast or soft / flat light. This can mean heading to the waterfall at sunrise or sunset, when it is overcast or even when there is a little mist or light drizzle. Equally head out to the waterfall when it is an overcast day or when the waterfall is in shadow. What we want to avoid is harsh highlights on the water and throughout the scene.



#2 - consider your composition


Take your time when you arrive at a scene to walk around and look at the waterfall and it surrounds from as many perspectives as possible. Look for unique viewpoints and consider using trees or rocks to give a sense of scale. Also be prepared to get wet as sometimes the best image requires entering the water and using rocks or the water-flow as part of your composition. It is recommended to carry aqua shoes for this and always apply care and caution when entering the water.


Tawhai falls in Tongariro, New Zealand
Tawhai Falls, Tongariro, New Zealand


#3 - slow it down


Neutral density (ND) filters are invaluable tools for achieving long exposure effects, allowing you to extend shutter speeds and capture the beauty of waterfalls with greater creative control. By reducing the amount of light entering the camera lens, ND filters enable you to blur motion while maintaining proper exposure, resulting in stunning images with smooth, flowing water and enhanced visual impact. Experiment with different ND filter strengths (e.g., 3-stop, 6-stop, or 10-stop) to achieve the desired level of motion blur and creative effect. In addition a polarising filter is also a great asset for photographing waterfalls. Polarising filters also reduce the light entering the lens, reduce glare in the water and enhance the mossy greens etc. A polarising filter may not be used on every shot but it is worth seeing if your image can be enhanced by it.


Cascade falls on the Milford Track, New Zealand
Cascade Falls, Fiordland, New Zealand


#4 - go wide and zoom in


Waterfalls are great subjects because they often allow us to come away with a variety of photographs. You can use a wide angle lens to capture the full scene. This may be from further down stream or from between trees or simply from out in front. Also swap out the wide angle for a zoom lens to change things up completely. Zooming in allows us to capture more intimate details like individual cascades or mossy rocks within the falls.


Routeburn Falls in New Zealand
Routeburn Falls, Routeburn Track, New Zealand


#5 - use the lowest iso


There are several tools available within your camera to decrease your shutter speed which allows you to capture the movement in the water. Lowering your ISO to the smallest value (eg ISO 100) decreases the shutter speed which will help capture the movement of the water. Lowering the ISO also increases the sharpness and image quality.


Mackay Falls on the Milford Track, New Zealand
Mackay Falls, Milford Track, New Zealand

and a final tip


Always use a steady tripod when photographing waterfalls and consider using a shutter-release cable when doing long exposure photography. This allows the image to be taken without touching the camera and moving it ever so slightly. Any type of movement of the camera during an exposure will result in blur within the image.

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