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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How to Photograph Waterfalls

Well, two blog posts in two days! As you’ll know from yesterday, we just got back from a lovely trip to the Lake District, which has to be a photographer’s paradise.

One of my favourite things in nature to photograph are waterfalls. There’s something majestic yet calming about a waterfall; I could spend hours sitting by them, dreaming and thinking...

These images I'm using to explain how to photograph waterfalls and flowing water were taken at Aira Force by Ullswater.

So, how do you photograph a waterfall exactly? Well, you can get a nice shot just by using a general landscape setting on your camera and handholding. You’ll get something quite like this:

However, to get a real dreamlike effect with misty-looking water, you need a slow shutter speed. You’ll also need a tripod. A tripod is essential for slow shutter speeds (i.e. long exposures), as otherwise you’ll get blurry images. You can get very cheap, small and lightweight tripods, so you don’t need to spend a fortune. I also sometimes use a cable release. This is simply a cable that plugs into the camera and at the other end you have a button to take the photo. All this does is further eliminate shaking from you touching the camera. A cable release isn’t essential though.

To change the shutter speed on your camera you need to use the Tv mode. Set the speed to at least 1 or 2 seconds, although I often use a lot longer. I must add though, that the misty-looking water effect isn’t the only way to photograph water. It’s probably the most popular way for waterfalls and flowing water, but experiment with fast shutter speeds as well. Fast shutter speeds will give you individual droplets of water and a completely different feel to your pictures.

Once you’ve adjusted your shutter speed, as long as you’re also using a tripod, you’ll be able to capture a shot like this one (5 second exposure):

Be aware though, that slow shutter speeds/long exposures mean that a lot of light will be let in, which can result in an overexposed photograph. This isn’t a problem in the Lakes, as a lot of the time it’s not that sunny! If you are photographing somewhere sunny then dawn and dusk are the best times to head out.

There’s one other thing you can do to further enhance your waterfall photographs (well, there are more, but these are the main things!) and that is to use a polarising filter. In simple terms, a polarising filter eliminates reflections and gives greater depth of colour. It will also help a little in cutting out sunlight (something else to assist with sunny days).

I use two types of filters. One type is square that fits into a holder that attaches to the end of your lens and the other is circular that screw onto your lens. You leave these ones on and can put your lens cover on top. My polarising filter is the latter type. All you need to do is turn the filter until you notice that the reflections have disappeared. You’ll also notice the greenery around the waterfall appears greener.

So, using a tripod, slow shutter speed and a polarising filter, I ended up with this shot (25 second exposure):

Here’s another. This was an 8 second exposure, although I think it may have been a bit long as I think the water is a bit too blurred in the bottom left.

I hope that gives you a little help on how to best photograph a waterfall or flowing water. Don’t forget that composition is vital in any photograph. Often the best shots are found by wandering around and searching for different viewpoints. And don’t think you have to get the whole of the waterfall in shot; just a small part of it can be just as, if not more, interesting. These images I've shown you here aren't of the whole waterfall. Aira Force is actually quite a high waterfall, although you can't tell from these pictures.

To summarise:

  • Use a tripod
  • Slow shutter speed
  • Polaraising filter (not essential)

Just to finish, here are a couple more photos for you. These are some cows that joined our picnic at Crummock Water:

This image was taken at Wast Water on our last trip to the Lakes:

Any images are available to buy. Please contact me for details (victoria@carefordcreations.co.uk).

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