How to take stunning soft waterfall pictures

If you’re a regular reader of my travel blog, you’ll know I’m something of a waterfall connoisseur. I’ve sought out beautiful waterfalls from Juayua, El Salvador to Namtok Mae Surin, Thailand, so of course I am a sucker for the countless cascades Iceland has to offer, from the most-visited Gullfoss, part of the Golden Circle tour, to Dettifoss, the most powerful, to Dynjandi, 60m across. I’ve seen Bridalveil Falls in Yosemite and swum in Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon.

Of course, there are too many more to mention. And with the exception of Havasu (I was eight years old at the time and hadn’t picked up photography yet), I’ve at least tried to photograph them all, with varying degrees of success.

Here are some tips I’ve discovered:

  • Use a long exposure to get beautiful soft streams of water. This means getting a reliable tripod. Trust me, it’ll be worth your while. Of course, depending on the time of day and whether your waterfall is in direct sunlight, it can get tricky not to overexpose the image. If you don’t have any filters (see next tip), then try setting your camera to Av/Aperture Priority mode, setting your ISO to 100 or as low as it will go, and using the shutter speed your camera determines for you. It may be long enough to give you what you want.
  • Reduce the light. This may mean shooting either earlier or later in the day, but if you’re anything like me, that’s all well and good, but I’m here now and I want the best picture I can get. I don’t want to wait all day! This is where ND/Neutral Density filters come in. I had seen them but couldn’t for the life of me figure out what they were for. Now I know. They come in different strengths, like ND2-8, and the strength you need or want will depend on how much light you need to cut down on to get the effect you want. Personally, I have a Variable ND Filter, but I’ve most often used it at the maximum end, at ND8. It depends on your shooting environment.

In no time you’ll be getting shots like the ones here (click on the image to see larger):

Juayúa, El Salvador

ISO: 100 Aperture: f/22 Shutter speed: 1/13th sec Time: 11:28 a.m.

ISO: 100
Aperture: f/22
Shutter speed: 1/13th sec
Time: 11:28 a.m.

ISO: 100 Aperture: f/22 Shutter speed: 1/6th sec Time: 11:39 a.m.

ISO: 100
Aperture: f/22
Shutter speed: 1/6th sec
Time: 11:39 a.m.

ISO: 100 Aperture: f/22 Shutter speed: 1 sec Time: 11:55 a.m.

ISO: 100
Aperture: f/22
Shutter speed: 1 sec
Time: 11:55 a.m.

Dynjandi, Iceland

ISO: 100 Aperture: f/22 Shutter speed: 1/6th sec Time: 4:28 p.m.

ISO: 100
Aperture: f/22
Shutter speed: 1/6th sec
Time: 4:28 p.m.

ISO: 100 Aperture: f/22 Shutter speed: 0.3 sec Time: 4:23 p.m.

ISO: 100
Aperture: f/22
Shutter speed: 0.3 sec
Time: 4:23 p.m.

 

Goðafoss, Iceland

ISO: 100 Aperture: f/22 Shutter speed: 20 sec (ND8 filter used) Time: 5:21 p.m.

ISO: 100
Aperture: f/22
Shutter speed: 20 sec (ND8 filter used)
Time: 5:21 p.m.

 

Unknown Waterfall, Westfjörds, Iceland

ISO: 100 Aperture: f/22 Shutter speed: 0.3 sec Time: 4:21 p.m.

ISO: 100
Aperture: f/22
Shutter speed: 0.3 sec
Time: 4:21 p.m.

ISO: 100 Aperture: f/22 Shutter speed: 0.4 sec Time: 5:11 p.m.

ISO: 100
Aperture: f/22
Shutter speed: 0.4 sec
Time: 5:11 p.m.

Leave a Reply