Want to photograph beautiful and dreamy waterfall images? Then you are in the right place. Because today I am going to show you six proven techniques to photograph beautiful waterfall images. These same techniques helped me to create awesome waterfall images every time. Let’s do this!
And here are the techniques you will learn in this post
- Use stable support such as tripod
- Use low ISO and larger aperture number
- Set your camera on slower shutter speed
- Cut the light by using neutral density (ND) filter
- Image composition
- Post-process the image for fine-tuning the tonality and colors
1. Use stable support such as tripod
For photographing a waterfall with silky water flow, you need to set slow shutter speeds. At slow shutter speed, steady support is a must to avoid any camera movement. Tripod is essential to use slow shutter speeds and capture the smooth flow of water.
With the use of a tripod, you can use shutters as slow as 30 sec without any camera movement. As you have slower shutter speeds, you can select low ISO values as well.
Apart from stable support, using a tripod will help you to compose the image much better. When you use a tripod, you think slowly. Slow thinking helps to create artistic compositions and stunning images. Hence I highly recommend that you use a tripod while you photograph a waterfall.
2. Use low ISO and large aperture number
Select lower the value of ISO such as ISO 50, ISO 100 or ISO 200. Low ISO values will not only help in lowering the shutter speeds, but it will also improve the image quality.
For photographing the waterfall, you need a deep depth of field. With a deep depth of field objects surrounding the waterfall, such as rocks, flowers, streams, and plants, will be in focus. Increase the aperture to a value of f/11, f/16, or f/22 to increase the depth of field. Another benefit of increasing the aperture number is that you can reduce the light entering the camera.
As you will use slow shutter speed, more light will enter the camera. In order to compensate for the slower shutter speed increase the value of aperture. This is to reduce the light entering the camera.
3. Set your camera on slower shutter speeds
For creating a smooth and silky effect to the flowing water, use the slower shutter speeds. Slower the shutter speeds = smoother the water flow.
I select the slower shutter speed based on the overall scene, light conditions and objects surrounding the waterfall (such as rocks, animals, flowers, and humans).
Start slowing down the shutter from 1/10 s and below, such as 1/10s, 1 s, 10 s, 20 s, and 30 s. Select the slower shutter speeds as per your creative choice.
4. Cut down the light using neutral density (ND) filter
Using the neutral density filter is an optional step.
While using Manual exposure mode – if you have lowered the ISO values up to ISO 100, increase the aperture value up to f/22 and set the shutter speed up to, say, 10 seconds. Still, the image is overexposed – it means that too much light is entering the camera.
You might have to cut down the light by using the neutral density filter.
Similarly, in the Aperture priority mode – if you have set the ISO at low values such as ISO 100 and increased the aperture number up to f/16 or f/22, you may still not be able to get the shutters speeds in seconds (1 s, 5s or 10 s).
In that case, you have to cut down the light entering the camera.
The use of a neutral density filter will help you to capture beautiful images with slow shutter speeds.
I use a Nisi ND filter which cuts down the light by ten stops. I recommend a neutral density filter that cuts down the light at least by six stops or ten stops.
5. Image composition
While image composition is a vast topic, and everyone will have a unique perspective.
However, here are some specific guidelines that will help you to create a beautiful composition.
- Selection of frame – horizontal vs. vertical
- A different perspective – wide-angle vs. close up
- Simplify – avoid the distraction
- Leading line of waterfall flow
- Include an object along with a waterfall
Selection of frame – horizontal vs. vertical
Choose horizontal composition when you want to photograph a specific part of the waterfall along with the objects surrounding the waterfall.
For photographing complete waterfall from top to bottom, select vertical composition.
It is a creative choice. Try vertical and horizontal compositions and see which works best for you.
A different perspective – wide-angle vs. close up
For photographing complete waterfall along with surrounding plants, sky and rocks use the wide-angle perspective. Use a wide-angle lens.
For photographing a small part of the waterfall, such as a waterfall and plant or rocks, use a zoom lens and a close-up perspective.
Zoom and wide-angle lenses can be used to create wide-angle and close shots of the waterfall. It depends on the size of the waterfall, your distance from it and your position.
Simplify – avoid distractions
While you are composing an image of a waterfall, there will be elements in the frame that are not supporting the image composition. Those elements can be electricity poles, wires, cars, people, and any artificial objects. These elements are distractions. Distractions will make the composition weak.
You should exclude the distraction and simplify the image. For avoiding electricity poles, wires and artificial objects exclude them while composing the image. Try to visit a waterfall in the early morning or weekdays when there are few people and cars.
Leading line of the waterfall
In your image, try to make a waterfall as a leading line. It can be such that either viewer should be directed from where the waterfall originates or where the waterfall flows.
If the origin of the waterfall is compelling, include leading line towards the origin. On the other hand, the flow of the waterfall is beautiful, then include the end of the waterfall.
Waterflow leading lines can be diagonal in an image or they can be vertical. Some time water flow can be reversed if the water is flowing over the cliff.
Include object along with a waterfall
In order to make the waterfall image interesting, include the supportive object. It means that the waterfall is your primary object, and the second object should make the picture interesting.
Smooth flow of water is one part of an image. A steady rock or colorful flower is the second object in an image.
Include objects in the foreground, such as tree leaves, window, or house. It will create a beautiful perspective. Include small-sized objects to show the relative size of the waterfall.
In summary, follow three composition techniques as below:
- Include secondary object next to the waterfall
- Include a secondary object in the waterfall
- Include a small object along with the waterfall to show the relative size
6. Post-process the image for fine-tuning the tonality and colors
Once you have photographed the waterfall image as mentioned in the above steps, it is time to post-process it. Remember, post-processing is fine-tuning of an image to improve its tonality and colors.
I use Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop for post-processing an image. You can use any image editing tool. Irrespective of the image editing tool follow the below-mentioned strategies to post-process an image.
First, apply global or overall adjustments, and then local or targeted adjustments. Let’s look into each adjustment:
Global or overall adjustments
In global adjustments, you apply the image adjustment to a complete image. In other words, you fix the overall colors and tonality of the image.
Here are the specific global adjustments I recommend:
- White balance and tint correction
- Setting up the white and black point
- Highlights and shadows
- Vibrance and saturation
- Hue, Saturation, and Luminosity ( HSL ) adjustments
In an image, there are specific areas where you need to make corrections. These corrections are required only in specific areas and not in a whole image. These tonal or color adjustments are known as targeted adjustments.
In a waterfall image, targeted adjustments need to be applied to the following:
- Flow of water
- Surrounding of the waterfall – such as rocks and plants
- Sky – If sky is included in an image
Specific targeted adjustments on the waterfall images are:
- Temperature and tint adjustment
- Setting up white and black point
- Saturation, dehaze, and clarity
Now it’s your turn
I hope these photography techniques will help you to create beautiful waterfall images. Now I would like to hear from you.
Which of the techniques from today’s post are you going to try first? Or do you have a question about the techniques in this post? Let me know by leaving a comment below.
About the Author
Shreyas S. Yadav is an engineer, wildlife and nature photographer from India. He is also a writer and lifelong adventure explorer. Through his writings, he teaches about digital post-processing and nature photography. He shares field techniques about nature photography, post-processing and wildlife photo stories on his website.