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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Practical tips for photography at Hamilton’s Gap (and some photos)


In August 2011 I went to Hamilton’s Gap with friends from the Manukau Photographic Society. It’s a particularly rugged and wild west coast beach that brought to mind the phrase “magnificent desolation”. I couldn’t find any useful information before I went so here’s a few tips for you:

  • Take absolutely everything you need: the only facilities are toilets. Taking a torch is a good idea.
  • Be prepared to wade an ankle-deep stream: gumboots are very practical.
  • There is 4WD access to the beach.
  • The area that gives access to the beach changes over time so be prepared for surprises.
  • If you have a self contained campervan there is parking with sea views.
  • There are no lifeguards so swimming is suicidal. People have drowned at west coast beaches because they stood at the edge of the water and were taken out by a large wave.
  • The beach is completely covered by the incoming tide so if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time you’ll be faced with climbing very steep, very crumbly hills. It’s probably more accurate to describe these hills as cliffs so getting trapped is a bad idea.
  • By about 2.5 hours after low tide the beach was inaccessible and we were shooting from an area of raised rocks adjacent to the car park: the marker on the map shows the exact spot. As the tide rises higher the path between these rocks and the car park will be covered in water.
  • On the day I went sunset was three hours after low tide and this worked very well because the water came up the foot of the rocks we were shooting from (see photo below).
  • As always, the best light is found an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. You can also find good light before sunrise and and after sunset. The west coast is great for photographers who don’t like early mornings :-).
  • If you like street photography you will probably find few people to photograph at Hamilton’s Gap. However, it’s good to try something different from time to time and thus avoid a creative rut.
  • The prevailing wind blows from the sea to the beach so there is a lot of fine, salty spray. This isn’t good for cameras, especially when changing lenses.
  • It’s a probably a spectacular location during westerly storms, as well as a potentially dangerous one.

If you like beaches that have a wild edge and few people then Hamilton’s Gap is well worth a visit.

Click on the photo below to see more shots from Hamilton’s Gap

Click to see more photos from Hamilton's Gap


Photo trip: Piha 28-3-10

I went to Piha (map) on a fine Sunday afternoon with a group from Manuaku Photographic Society. It’s a well known surf beach and the photo on the right gives you an overview: Lion Rock is to the right of the boy, South Piha is on the near side of the rock, and – wait for it – North Piha is on the far side of the rock. All the on-beach photos that you’ll see here were taken in an area that is slightly north of Lion Rock.

Please note that all the photos can be enlarged: just click on a photo, then click again.

Piha is a very dangerous beach for swimmers and just before we arrived a boy went missing: we saw helicopters, a small plane, a jet ski, and surf lifesavers searching for him. The next five photos show scenes from that search, including lifeguards in red and yellow uniforms:

Read the rest of this entry »

A bee in a bind 

A bee in a bind

(Click on the photo for a larger view, then click again)

You may be thinking “Why take a photo of a bee in a cobweb?” Well, why not? It’s hard to make a photo of a dead bee that doesn’t bore people to death, but this scene caught my eye due to the wonderful framing given by the tube. I also like the way that the bee is dangling in a pathetic manner that portrays his plight (the photo has not been rotated). I tweaked the exposure, cropped, and added a background, but otherwise the photo is as shot.

I like to take photos with a subtle touch of the unusual, and I think that I’ve succeeded here 🙂

Thank you to those observant people who have pointed out that this is in fact a wasp. In this case I’ve chosen to exercise poetic licence.

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