Photographing waterfalls – the long and short of it.


Waterfalls will always be on the travel itinerary in any country you visit. I’ve not yet visited some of the largest in the world but from a photographers perspective even the smallest trickle of water to the largest volume of H2O can be captured in different ways. If you take a little extra care in setting up as suggested below I’m hoping you’ll be glad you made the effort and inspire yourself for future trips. Following are some general tips with examples.

 

1. Cascade Falls, Katoomba, Blue Mountains, New South Wales (FILM)

 

COMPOSITION = makes the shot unique, keeps viewer interest, less cropping
A. Shoot as many sides to the waterfall as you can, including wide-angle (pic 1) and close up (pics 2,3) if time allows. I was standing IN the water for pics 2, 3 as it was relatively shallow (but damn cold). I wanted to shoot straight on and get the composition I felt was the strongest. Set up your gear before stepping into the water as you do not want to be changing lenses in this situation, or wear a lens jacket for easier changes to setup.

B. Keep shadowy, almost black rocks and foliage out of the frame if not a creative aspect of your composition. It would, more than likely, be cropped out at a later stage if not used for any reason and this reduces your image size and therefore suitability for print. To see how dark foliage can be used as a framing effect see the picture of the mountain Machupuchare in Nepal in the ECS Nepal magazine article below.

C. Try shooting further back from the waterfall to give your image a sense of the eco-system surrounding the falls (pic 4). My eventual preference of shot sometimes differs from what I thought would be the hero once all images are viewed together.

 

2, 3. Detail of Thredbo River, Snowy Mountains, New South Wales (FILM)

 

Use a TRIPOD or sturdy support = sharp images
Many public waterfalls have some fencing that makes for good camera support but keep it tethered to your wrist if there is a long drop below. In the wilderness a tripod is essential. It obviously doesn’t have to be a large, heavy tripod. I use a lightweight SLIK Sprint Mini ll PRO GM that has been perfect for daytrips. If I had to place a heavy telephoto lens on it I would use it with all legs retracted for strength.

EXPOSURE = major factor in the representation of the water.
A. Use a long exposure, typically between 1/30 and one second, if you want soft, blurry water. An additional 0.3 or 0.6 grade neutral density filter will give you beautiful lines of flowing misty water. This screws onto the front of your lens. All pics. You can also freeze the flowing droplets of water by choosing a faster shutter speed, around 1/250 or 1/500 second. Try this with some close up shots of the water. This is something not often seen with the naked eye and will be fascinating to view.

 

4. Empress Falls, Blue Mountains, New South Wales

 

DEPTH OF FIELD = Aperture selection / Sharpness of background
A. As mentioned above, included in your range of shots, capture the environment surrounding the waterfall (pic 4, 5). Using a tripod, select your smallest ISO (to retain detail) and as small an aperture as you can – from f11to f16 or even f22 (your camera may record sharper detail around the f16 mark however). Add the neutral density filters.

 

5. Valley in central Annapurna range, Nepal

 

© Warren Field 2010 / Olympus E-System

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