Five tips for photographing waterfalls

Two days ago I went to the Hunua Falls and was inspired to write this post. Waterfalls aren’t my favourite subject and it’s easy to make dull photos of them, but a few simple techniques will give your photos a lift.

Click here to see more photos from the falls.

1: Include a person for scale

Put your thumb over the man in the photo below and your sense of the waterfall’s height disappears. Part of telling the story of your visit to a waterfall is showing viewers how high the waterfall was and the simplest way to do this is to include a person, preferably one who is the same distance from the camera as the waterfall is. Including people in landscapes also gives viewers an emotional connection with the image.

Mandeno Moments: Hunua Falls &emdash;

2: Get wet

If you have a waterproof camera or an underwater housing such as a Dicapac you may be able to get close to base of the waterfall and make a photo that is different enough to arouse the viewer’s interest. For the shot below I was one step away from swimming and about ten feet away from the waterfall. There was so much water in the air that I was looking around for the soap.

Mandeno Moments: Hunua Falls &emdash;

3: Frame it

Vegetation can be a nice soft frame around your waterfall. Having some in the foreground gives the photo a sense of depth.

Mandeno Moments: Hunua Falls &emdash;

4: Include interaction

When people stand and point at the waterfall there is interaction between the people and the scenery which ties the elements of the photo together. This is much more interesting than having people who are just standing there (compare with the example above at “Include a person for scale”).

Mandeno Moments: Hunua Falls &emdash;

5: Experiment with motion blur

If your camera will allow you set the shutter speed you can experiment with differing amounts of motion blur: having the shutter open for longer increases the degree of motion blur. You’ll need the Manual camera mode (you set the aperture and shutter speed. M on a mode dial) or Shutter Priority (you set the shutter speed and the camera sets the aperture. S or Tv on a mode dial). Generally you will need to use a tripod and the two second self timer in order to avoid camera shake.

How much motion blur is good? That’s a matter of taste. Personally, I don’t like the cotton wool look but I do like to have enough to make it obvious that the water is moving. For the photo below I used a shutter speed of 1/160, but this is only a rough guide because the same shutter speed will give different results when the speed of the water changes.

Note that the mono version of this photo give a stronger sense of motion than the colour version above does. This happens because mono emphasises light/shadow, shape, and texture: shape and texture convey motion blur, so mono often strengthens the message that motion blur gives to the viewers.

Mandeno Moments: Hunua Falls &emdash;


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