Waterfall Photography Techniques For Beginners

Waterfalls are some of nature’s most awe-inspiring features.

Waterfall Photography Techniques For Beginners

Hundreds of gallons of water, pouring over the lip of a river, crashing onto the rocks or water below, in a mesmerizing way that feels both otherworldly and yet somehow the most natural phenomenon out there.

Waterfalls are some of the most popular subjects for photographers to try and capture in their photos. And, as some intrepid photographers reading this will likely know, they are also some of the trickiest items to get a good picture of.

These amazing natural features of waterways around the world provide a unique set of circumstances and challenges that amateur photographers must get to grips with if they wish to capture a professional-level image.

Fortunately, there are quite a few things that you can do to immediately improve your photography game with waterfalls(see also: The Best Locations For Waterfall Photography). And luckily for you, we’ve got a ton of them here to share with you right now!

1. Researching Locales

Waterfall Photography Techniques For Beginners

An aspect of photography that many people often forget about is also one of the most fundamental. At least, if you’re new to the whole experience.

Most photographers will try and do extensive research on the locales that they are choosing to photograph, especially when it comes to things such as landscape photographs.

Knowing what the terrain is like, what the topography might be like, and when the local sunrise and sunset hours are, can all help make deciding on a shooting space much easier. The same is true for a waterfall, doubly so in many cases.

After all, unlike landscape photos, where you can effectively set up your camera anywhere and take a picture, waterfalls aren’t something that can just be found in any corner of nature.

They only appear where the conditions are right, so research on actually finding them in the first place is pretty crucial!

Make sure to research waterfalls and other similar features around where you intend to look (look for rivers that run through hilly or mountainous terrain, if in doubt), and try and find what options you have for taking photographs before you go out on-site.

You don’t want to waste precious light hours trying to find just one spot, do you?

2. Buy A Camera That Can Shoot In Manual

Waterfall Photography Techniques For Beginners

Next, after finding a spot, you have to start gathering the right tool for the photographic job that you’re planning on doing.

While many smartphones today are being fitted with increasingly powerful cameras, they still don’t hold a candle to the clarity and options that a professional photographer’s camera will have.

On that subject, when picking a professional camera to use for photographing waterfalls, you’ll want to select a camera that has as many customizable and adjustable settings as possible.

This setting will be known as ‘manual mode’, and is a feature that most high-end cameras have.

However, despite this being a mark of quality, you probably won’t have to spend a fortune to get a camera with this function, especially in the last few years, as plenty of mid and less expensive cameras have come with this feature as standard.

3. Adjust ISO And Aperture

Waterfall Photography Techniques For Beginners

If you were wondering what sort of things you could do with ‘manual mode’ on a camera, this is one of the big ones! One of the complaints that many photographers will have will be that their pictures of waterfall currents and drops don’t look right.

Often, they will look more like ice in the current light conditions that the pictures are taken in (see also “How To Photograph Icicles“), rather than in the flowing water that waterfalls look like to the human eye.

This is a frustrating issue that can ruin an otherwise gorgeous composition, which is why you’ll need to have a camera that can alter aspects of its photographic process, such as adjusting the aperture and shutter speeds, as well as the level of exposure that your pictures are receiving.

That being said, there are some photographers that like this ice-like, almost wispy texture to the water. How exactly you want your pictures to turn out with this tip will likely depend on your personal preference.

If you prefer the clarity of a single picture, and the many tons of water that pour down the face of a waterfall to freeze in an instant, then adjusting the ISO and aperture of your camera may be the way to go.

On the other hand, many people do like the overall look of the icy or smooth, flowing blur effect that you can get from adjusting the settings on your camera.

After all, waterfalls aren’t objects stuck in the wind, but flowing, moving objects. And for some people, the effect helps capture that feeling.

4. Get Yourself A Sturdy Tripod

Waterfall Photography Techniques For Beginners

Arguably the backbone of any photographer’s toolkit that wants a steady and clear picture, tripods might just be the most important tool that you can grab, especially with a photographic subject as flowing and fast-moving as a waterfall.

Given how quickly waterfalls move with their river and stream flow, your camera needs to be as steady as possible to achieve that clarity of image that you’re looking for.

Even the steadiest photographer’s hand will often pale in comparison to the stability that a good tripod can provide.

Not just for the water, but for the surrounding scenery too, such as any foliage, trees, rock formations, or anything else you’re hoping to capture in the picture.

A tripod also allows you to use your hands for other purposes to find other angles that may be interesting to take pictures from. In other words, if you get no other piece of kit for your photography needs, then make sure that it’s a good, sturdy tripod!

5. Second Exposure, For Perfect Foliage

Waterfall Photography Techniques For Beginners

We’ve talked at length about the difficulty of capturing water on camera, but the same is true for many plants and scenery items that waterfalls are usually found against.

You’ll likely have noticed that those same plants and foliage will often blow in the slightest breeze, which can often lead to the picture surrounding a waterfall still being blurry.

In these cases, you’ll usually want to check to see if the edges of the plants and leaves luck blurry or out of focus when they aren’t supposed to be.

In these cases, make sure to increase the shutter speed for your camera to compensate for this issue. Or, if that doesn’t work, try and open up the aperture, without losing the focus that you might need for your photograph.

6. Get The Right Light

Waterfall Photography Techniques For Beginners

Like any good picture, finding the right light for your scenery is critical to making sure that your picture is looking its best. Waterfalls are no different in this way. This might be a problem that requires a little planning and creative thinking to achieve.

After all, you can’t adjust the lighting outside for a waterfall picture like you can in a studio.

The best times to get pictures outdoors are usually around sunset or sunrise, as the light will be low enough to capture plenty of detail that may otherwise get lost in shadow or washed out by a bright light source.

However, you’ll have to be quick. You’ll only get a short period at each time of day to do this before these conditions change. This won’t stop you from being able to take good pictures, of course.

It just means that you may have to work around more awkward lighting conditions than you may be comfortable with, especially as a beginner. We hope you’re an early riser, or don’t mind staying out a little later to get your pictures taken!

7. Just A Camera And A Tripod

Waterfall Photography Techniques For Beginners

Finally, we have one last point that you must keep in mind for your waterfall photo opportunities, especially as newcomer photographers. And that is, try not to worry about extra bells and whistles!

Many other guides might insist on using expensive gadgets or techniques that you need to use in every photo that you are trying to take of a waterfall, such as neutral density filters.

And while that may be a place that you can try to aim towards, they are by no means things that you need to be doing to start on your photography journey.

So long as you have a good camera, a good tripod, and a decent eye, you can start taking pictures at your pleasure. Then, you can start practicing and experimenting with other equipment to start improving your photography.

You don’t need to be a genius or a 10/10 amazing photographer to get started. Everyone has to start somewhere. And as long as you have started, then progress is bound to follow!

Final Notes

So, as you can see, waterfalls are pretty subjects to get photos of, especially if you don’t have the right equipment on hand to capture them in all their natural beauty.

Hopefully, this guide has given you the pointers that you need to start turning those frustrating blurs into drop-dead amazing pictures that will wow anyone that sees them!

Laura McNeill
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