Spring has sprung and the winter snow melt is underway. With the melting snow, and a little bit of Spring rains the streams and waterfalls are going to have some great flow. Even the weather may not be prime for outdoor activities, you can visit some of the most beautiful and popular places without having to worry about crowding and people getting into your compositions. So what better time to get out and work on capturing some epic waterfalls, right?
So the first thing to know about waterfall photography is going to be what you're going to bring with you. Even with some hiking involved in some of these adventures, right now I'm going to just cover some of the camera equipment for you because this is what you're going out for. The camera equipment is going to be of utmost importance, without making sure you are fully prepared with the right gear your waterfall photography will not be at its best. First things first; make sure you have your camera with you with at least your standard zoom lens. For these types of adventures I will usually bring my Canon 24-70mm lens, and a wide angle prime to ensure that I can capture the compositions that I would want. The next priority is to make sure you have a good sturdy tripod. A good tripod is definitely necessary when taking waterfall photography because if you want to take a long exposure of your waterfall; having the ability to be stable on a tripod is going to be crucial to getting a good clean photo. A quick tip with your tripod, be mindful of where you set it up. If you are setting up your tripod in the water, be careful to make sure that it is stable so your camera doesn’t fall into the water. But also make sure to take a few test photos to make sure that the rushing water is not introducing some shake into the camera setup. That could make your perfect composition unusable if you find out later on that the images you took are all blurry because of it.
Beyond the two priorities that I just listed there are other items you should have with you as well. While these pieces of gear are really important to capturing a waterfall, if you don’t have any of these items you can adapt as you go, and maybe even get creative with how you might make some great photos of the waterfall and streams you are visiting. So, one of big things I carry with me for something like this is my filter set. In my filter set I carry the Blue Frog Filter holder with a 3 stop and a 10 stop Neutral Density filter, or ND Filter. In that kit is also a screw in circular polarizer that works with the filter holder, which is extremely convenient. I will also carry a set of gradient ND filters so that way I can reduce the amount of light getting through to my camera sensor in a portion of the image, instead of the whole image.
Having the ND filters are really nice to have because you can use it to reduce highlights in all or a portion of the scene in front of it. But also, having a polarizer filter can help you with some reflections with the water to get detail in the waterfall pools or portions of the stream. I generally carry two polarizing filters, one for the Blue Frog set, and a second screw on filter if I am not using the filter holder. Removing the reflections is a nice feature to have because you can sometimes bring out colors in the waterfall and stream bed that you would not normally see because of the reflection of the sky or the rest of the scene on the water itself.
The last item that I like to have with me is a remote trigger, or a remote app on my phone in order to help control the camera to take the timed photos without introducing any camera shake. It also allows me to to not have to sit right with the camera the whole time, which will prevent inadvertent bumps or knocks to create a blurry image, or shift your composition.
Once at the waterfall, you should follow some of these tips in order to ensure you are giving yourself the best opportunity to capture the best images you can. The first part is to look for interesting compositions in your scene and around the area. Don’t be afraid to chase the light, and chase an interesting composition if it stands out to you. Capturing the whole waterfall itself may not be the most interesting composition or image that you could get. Zooming in, or changing positions and angles can help you find more interesting compositions. You want to compose your image utilizing the Rule of Thirds or any other compositional techniques. Another thing to consider are the lines that are created with the flowing water and a timed photograph. The flowing water can introduce a leading line for you that you may not see in the moment. By all means, try and experiment with your shutter speed to try and bring out those lines. Also look for shapes in the scene that can be used to help build your composition as well.
The last tip I will give you is to have fun. I say it all the time. Photography is a really fun and enriching activity that can help you express yourself creatively. So, enjoy the process and take your time.
Be sure to check out the video that accompanies this post on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/@jamesvooghtphotography and make sure to get out and capture some great photos!