How to photograph waterfalls with slow shutter speeds

Tips for photographing moving water, such as fast moving rivers and waterfalls

1/3 sec; f/22, ISO 100

  • As you will need to use a slow shutter speed you should avoid bright sunshine, so overcast days are better, or at sunrise and sunset.
  • You will need to shoot in manual (M) or Shutter Priority Mode. Set the ISO to 100 and use a slow shutter speed, perhaps around 1/10  to start with. If you are shooting in Manual mode  select a small aperture – f/11 or above. The smaller the aperture you use, the slower your shutter speed will be. Ideally you wouldn’t go as high as I did in the shot above as lenses tend to be sharper throughout the image around f/11 but it was too bright.
  • Experiment with different shutter speeds until you get the water to look as you would like it to. As the water could be flowing very fast or slow, there’s no right or wrong shutter speed.
  • You will, of course, need to use a tripod.
  • lens cloth will come in handy to wipe mist or water droplets off the front of the lens.
  • If you are finding that your images are over exposed because of the slow shutter speeds, you can use a polarising filter, or, ideally a neutral density filter.
  • Polarising filters will reduce the amount of light slightly and will help reduce reflections on the water.
  • A neutral density filter is better as it reduces the light more. You can buy different strengths e.g. a ND 0.3 filter will reduce the light by one stop, whereas a ND 1.8 will reduce it by 6 stops.
  • You can of course stack filters and use both.
  • You could use bracketing to take a series of shots to select from later.
  • Watch out for trees and leaves blowing around and looking blurred at the edges of your frame.
  • As with any shot your composition will make or break your image. You need foreground interest – in the shot above the focal point is on the large rock in the foreground. Your eye then travels up the waterfall.
  • Try different angles – wide angle, portrait, zoomed in on a particular section. Try including more foreground, getting down low, getting higher up.
  • If the sky is overcast and grey, don’t include it.

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