Do your photos of waterfalls always look the same, i.e., crispy with the water droplets appearing frozen and static? Do you want to take better images of waterfalls that have that dreamy, flowing look you see produced by professional nature photographers?
Well, you don’t, necessarily, need to be a professional to capture awesome photos of waterfalls and you don’t, necessarily, need extra gear such as filters to produce that milky, fluid look. In the below tutorial, photographer Mike Smith demonstrates how.
“Today I show you how to photograph waterfalls and get them looking nice and dreamy, instead of crispy and static, without any filters,” Smith says. “And I’ll also show you a way to cheat and get longer exposures than you think you might be able to get. Whenever I go for a hike, I’ll always try and find waterfalls in the area to photograph. When you get a good one, you can really make the scene look very different with these techniques you’ll learn today.”
Here’s a rundown of Smith’s tips, which he demonstrates in the video at the bottom of this post.
#1 Adjust ISO and Aperture
Smith explains that when most beginners photograph waterfalls, they get that standard frozen water effect because there’s too much light getting into the camera, which produces a faster shutter speed that freezes the movement of the water.
“So, the trick is to slow the shutter speed down by manipulating the other two principal settings, which are ISO and aperture,” he says. “First of all, get your camera to its lowest ISO possible. In my Sony A7 III camera, I can drop this two ISO 50.”
Secondly, Smith adds, you should change your aperture to a high number, such as F/11 or F/16, which will let less light into the camera and produce a slower shutter speed.
#2 Use a Tripod
While slower shutter speeds will help produce a flowing look to the water, when shooting handheld you’re likely to get unwanted blur in your photo. This is why you’ll want to use a tripod, he notes.
“You want to lock the camera in place, so when you press your shutter button, you get a photo and only the water is blurring,” Smith says. “Nothing else in the shot has any kind of blur [when using a tripod] in it. This is the safest way to keep your camera perfectly still.”
#3 Take Your Time
Once you have your camera on a tripod and picked and aperture such as F/11 or F/16 to achieve a slower shutter speed, start shooting the waterfall. While your initial images might not be exactly what you’d hoped, take your time, and make small adjustments to the ISO, aperture and shutter speed on the camera to help capture the flowing water effect. There’s no rush, Smith explains, and you can always delete the images you don’t like later.
#4 Choose the Time of Day Wisely
“If you try to photograph waterfalls in the middle of the day, you might struggle without any filter to get that shutter speed slow enough. The best time to go out is later in the day towards sunset. As the daylight starts to drop, this will help you shoot with longer shutter speeds. As the shutter speed gets slower, you’ll see the water blurs more and more.”
#5 Self Timer and Focusing
Smith suggests using the self-timer on your camera because it will prevent the camera shake that occurs when you push the shutter yourself. “For focusing, I’ll put the camera into flexible spot on my A7 III. I’ll then focus on the waterfall, because that’s my subject, then I’ll take the shot.”
Make sure you stick around to the end of Smith’s waterfall tutorial where he provides you with a “waterfall photography cheat sheet” that lists all the main points he discusses in the video for easy reference.