Creamy Waterfalls: Tips N’ Tricks

So, you wanna take those postcardesque shots of waterfalls? Well, cool, I will tell ya. At the most basic level, what you are wanting to do is have a long shutter speed so that instead of capturing a split second shot of the water movement, you get smoothed out water. An exposure of one second is the minimum, and on sunny days, this is often difficult so you might be out of luck unless you have a neutral density filter on your lens (Think sunglasses for your camera, they limit the amount of light entering the lens, which enables a longer shutter speed) (one more thing I need to buy! ha ha). Interesting side note about ND filters: If you have one that REALLY limits the amount of light, you can take pics of busy streets, monuments, etc and because of the long exposure, people and cars *magically* disappear since they are moving and not in the frame for a long period

Okay, where were we? So basic equipment:

  • Tripod (I still have a cheapo aluminum, but it works fine, you just need to stabilize the camera!)
  • Camera (duh!, make sure you have freshly charged batteries, memory card with plenty of free space)
  • Possibly a wide angle lens (optional but often great to capture the whole scene)

Optional:

  • A neutral density filter to limit light enabling a longer exposure (if you shoot early or late, you probably won’t need one)
  • A remote shutter release (I actually made mine from an old cell phone microphone) but they are cheap and great for photographing fireworks and any time you perform a Bulb exposure
  • If you don’t have a remote shutter release, use a the self timer, built into most cameras.
  • You can also use mirror lockup if you feel the need, it might be overkill though.
  • A circular polarizing filter will help increase contrast, reduce glare, and give your shot that extra oomph. I did not use one for these images as I was using a borrowed lens that was not sized for my filters.
  • Shoot multiple exposures and combine them together in an HDR style. (Use Photoshop or Photomatix)

Other tips:

Since you are basically in a war against overexposure, you might have to get creative with your light-limiting. So, if you are able to move either yourself or camera to a position where less light is falling on your subject, this can help. Maybe having a large sheet and an assistant (or sympathetic partner, ha!) to diffuse the light will really cut the light levels down, but is probably a little impractical for most. You can also use as small an aperture as possible, maybe f/22 or so. This will unfortunately make everything in focus, but when you are up against the wall, you gotta make due. And one last thing that might be fun to do is get hip waders and get in the water for a great low angle shot. Make sure you properly rinse and dry your tripod, especially if shooting in salt water (salt corrodes!).

Closing remarks: Have fun, experiment, and enjoy the nature that surrounds you. If you don’t have access to a waterfall, try practicing with your bathroom faucet or shower.

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