Waterfalls are some of the most beautiful natural wonders you can find. So it's no surprise people love photographing them. There are a lot of techniques, and methods to getting the best shot you possibly can. I have learnt a few things on my adventures, which I would like to share with you.
Research is one of the most vital components of any landscape photo, often neglected too. I know when I first started I never did much research, just showed up and hoped for the best. In retrospect, while it may be time consuming and take effort to partake in research, its totally worth it. So what do I research you may ask? Good question. Here's a few suggestions.
The location itself, is one of the key things to research. Now, you might want to have a look at various different waterfalls in the area you want to photograph in before settling on one. You never know, there might be an even more incredible one just round the corner from where you were initially intending on going to. Google maps and google earth are the best tools for this.
Once you have settled on a location (or wish list), take the time to properly have a look at the area using google earth/ google maps. Know it inside out before you go, every good angle, every nice bit of foreground, as much as you possibly can! This will save you a lot of time when you get there.
The other factors worth looking into are season- will the waterfall look the same as the pictures I have seen of it? If there is a lot of foliage around it then autumn/ fall is probably the best time to go there. Then whether it will actually be full or not. This has tripped me up many times. You find a waterfall, and it looks great, but it may well be dependant on rainfall (sometimes a lot), to appear at its best (if at all). Below is a picture of Hull Pot in the Yorkshire Dales.
I know this tripped me up badly- I went in the blistering rain one day, we got a few shots, but vowed to come back as it was raining so badly our camera equipment was starting to get effected. When we did come back on a glorious summer day, it was practically dried up! So yeah, don't let that trip you up, because trust me it sucks when it does!
Using a long exposure can really add something to your shot, especially of a waterfall. I see a lot of other photographers using this technique and for good reason. If you would like some more detail on long exposures then check out this video here!
For a waterfall, I like to use anything between 1/5 sec and 5 sec shutter speed. Anything over that can make it a little too ice looking for my liking, it is all a matter of personal preference though. In order to achieve that effect, it would be preferable to photograph in either low light or using an ND filter. If you follow the link above I have provided some recommendations for ND filters in the description!
One problem you may encounter while using long exposures is a blurred foreground, especially if there is foliage around the waterfall and it's windy. This is something I will cover in the next section.
Without Long Exposure (1/200)
With Long Exposure (0.5 sec)
Finding a great foreground can be essential to really enhancing your waterfall shot. You can use anything! The composition overall will be one of the key elements of what makes or breaks the photo! You can use leading lines, framing techniques, rule of thirds, anything you want. I go into more detail about composition in this blog here!
For the foreground of my waterfall shots, I personally like using foliage, flowers anything natural in the surrounding area. I love shooting waterfalls in autumn, the colours are fantastic! This is something you can incorporate into the aforementioned research. While you are on google maps, scout the surrounding area for some foregrounds that may look pleasing to the eye. Like I said before, its always best to know what you are doing before you get there.
In regard to what I was talking about before with the blurred foreground/surrounding area. While you are taking long exposures, if grass, flowers etc are blowing around during the exposure, they will appear blurred in the photograph. Personally to overcome this I take two shots on my tripod (trying my best to keep the exact same frame, knocking your tripod won't do you any favours!). The first shot will be the long exposure and the second I will use a fast shutter speed. Then using photoshop I blend the two together (sharp foreground and long exposure). You can see an example of this below.
I would also encourage you to go outside the box with foreground choice/ composition. For example, below is the famous Selandjafoss waterfall in Iceland. This waterfall is incredible, and as a result has been photographed to death. I decided to do something a little out of the norm and photograph it from an aerial perspective. Don't be put off by the popular waterfalls either, there's a reason they're popular. If you do go to one though, try and do something different, let your photos stand out from the pack!
The weather, like any photo can be a major factor. I personally really like shooting waterfalls in the rain. While other spots may be hard to access and not look as good in the rain. I like to head out to the waterfalls when it is raining. They are more full, and as discussed before, they sometimes depend on the rain. You will also get much more even light, and you have more chance of playing with long exposure settings (it's usually darker when it's raining, so you can use longer shutter speeds).
That's not to say that when the weather is clear, waterfalls are a no go! You can catch great colours in them with sunsets/rises. Just be wary that they tend to be in sheltered valleys, and the sun may set behind that valley. The research is the key with this one!
So yeah, go out have some fun, practice, practice, practice and let me know how it all goes on my facebook group here!