How to capture a waterfall

How to capture a waterfall

In the few weeks I’m in Norway now I have captured a lot of little waterfalls. Our campus is located between the forests and with all the mountain streams going to down, I have plenty of material to work with. Having so many examples of the waterfall. Made me come up with the idea to explain how to do it. The results can be stunning and who doesn’t want beautiful pictures of waterfalls with that beautiful water texture?



First, start with what do we need? All you need is a tripod, camera, lens and an ND-filter. But I will explain one by one what I have been using.

A tripod is really important when to capture waterfalls with that beautiful silky water texture. I used a tripod from Sirui, this tripod can be used from 13 cm to 145 cm, has spikes on the legs and for me the most important, a ball head. This ball head is really useful, you do not have to worry about having the tripod levelled. You can adjust it with the ball head and you can shoot vertical pictures without using other tripods heads.

A wide-angle lens is the most useful lens to have while capturing waterfalls. The lens I have been using is a Sigma 10-20 mm. Using this lens you have the advantage of the wide angle-view but still a little zoom if necessary.

An ND-filter, with this filter it is possible to get the long exposure times needed to get the silky texture of the waterfall. I bought the ND2-400 filter from Hama. This one is absolutely not the best, but it has a good price/quality.  It is a good filter to find out if you like to work with long exposure photography. If you enjoy it then you can think about investing in a good filter set.

And last but not least, the camera. I’m shooting all my pictures with a Canon EOS 7D.

Waterfall time!

I usually just go for a walk in the forest and see what kind of waterfalls I will stumble upon. But you can also go a bit more prepared and just google maps/internet to find interesting waterfalls. But if you get to a waterfall unexpected or prepared, still you can take great photo’s.

Taking a perfect picture of the waterfall is not done in seconds, it is a process of trial and error. And of course, it is about personal taste. I like the pictures with a long exposure time, that the water looks like a long stretched blanket. While others prefer a shorter exposure time, with still lots of details in the water.

But it is the best to start easy. Set your ISO to the lowest value possible, 100 for the most camera’s. Setting the aperture to the number where everything will get sharp, around F8-F10 (or higher if you wish) and start playing around with the shutter speed and the ND filter. If you prefer, like me, silky smooth water than the shutter speed can go all the way up between 20-30 seconds. But if you prefer to have more detail, 1 second can already be enough.

The higher the value of the ND-filter is the fewer lights come through the lens, the longer the shutter speed can be. For example, an ND 2 limits the light coming in by one stop, an ND 4 limits the light by two stops. So that means you can drop(make longer) the shutter speed with one or two stops as well.

When is the best to go?

The best times to go shooting waterfalls is sunrise or sunset. When the amount of light is limited, which help to achieve the water texture. Also, an overcast day is better than sunshine, again for the amount of light. But also for the reason that if half of the waterfall will be in the sun and the other half in the shadow, the camera will not be able to work with that contrast. The time in the year also has a big influence on the waterfall. Mostly the rivers are fed through melting snow and rain showers. So in spring and autumn, the waterfall will be the biggest, while in summer there might be just a little stream.

I went waterfall shooting halfway the morning on a sunny day. So, these are no set rules but guidelines for making the best photo’s. Different waterfall pictures are available for prints, take a look at my shop.

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