Landscape Photo of Havasu waterfall in Arizona by Jay Patel

6 Effective Ideas to Capture Amazing Waterfall Photos

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Waterfalls are one of my favorite subjects to photograph. Stunning waterfall photos like these can inspire other photographers to pick up their cameras and go exploring. It certainly inspired me when I was starting my photography career. However, when I tried to capture my first waterfall photo at Olympic National Park, it was less then inspirational.

  • Example of waterfall photos in wrong light, Solduc Falls, Washington

    My first attempt at a waterfall photo in wrong light, Solduc Falls, Washington

  • Example of waterfall photos in right light, Solduc Falls, Washington

    Second try at the same waterfall photo in soft light, Solduc Falls, Washington

After my first failed attempt, I set out to acquire the skills needed to correctly photograph the beauty of waterfalls. It took me awhile before I was able to produce the photos that I had dreamed about. Here are some simple lessons that allowed me to take my photography to the next level.

Circular Polarizer

The area around waterfalls is often wet. Because of this, a circular polarizer is essential to bring out the details and cut down the glare of the wet rocks. Effective use of a circular polarizer requires you to know how to set the circular polarizer properly, know its side effects (such as uneven polarization), and know its limitations.

Light

Waterfalls are best photographed under the right kind of light. While most waterfalls would look stunning under soft overcast light, it is not the only type of light you can used for waterfall photos. Here are some examples of waterfall shots under different light conditions:

  • Spotlight on Yellowstone Waterfalls, Wyoming

    Spotlight on Yellowstone Waterfalls, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

  • Landscape Photo of Havasu waterfall in Arizona by Jay Patel

    Havasu Falls in shade, Arizona

  • Skogafoss Waterfall in Harsh Light, Iceland

    Harsh Light on Skogafoss Waterfall, Skogar, Iceland

Both Yellowstone and Havasu Falls are featured in our Workflow Series: Waterfalls eBook and Practical LR 2018.06 Tutorials.

Attention to Details

Depending upon the volume of water, it is quite possible to overexpose the highlights in falling water even if you are shooting in the heavy overcast condition. It is best to check the exposure after each shot and use bracketing if needed. I took two shots to capture the above photo of Metlako Falls in the Columbia River Gorge in heavy overcast conditions. One was exposed for the highlights in the water and the other was exposed for the foliage around the waterfall.

Waterfalls Photo of Metlako Falls, Oregon

Metlako Falls needed two bracketed shots, Oregon

Composition

Composition can either make or break your waterfall photos. It is best to avoid distracting elements when photographing the waterfalls. You can also use the cascades at the base of the waterfall to form leading lines. It is not always necessary to photograph the entire waterfall. Sometime a minimalist composition of just part of the waterfall can produce a stunning photo like this shot by Varina Patel from Iceland.

Skogafoss Waterfall Photo at Skogar, Iceland

Minimalist composition of Skogafoss Waterfall, Skogar, Iceland

Tall waterfalls often require a vertical composition to capture them properly, however we always make it a point to capture both the vertical and horizontal composition. This allows the flexibility to use the photos for a variety of different projects.

Using Human Elements in the Photo

It is hard to tell the scale of a waterfall without a good reference point. Including human elements in a waterfall shot can not only give an idea of the scale of the waterfall, but can also help create mood and drama. Here are few examples of using human elements in waterfall photos.

  • Varina Patel crossing Havasu Falls, Arizona

    Varina Patel crossing Havasu Falls, Arizona

  • Leading lines created by Human Elements, Marymere Falls, Washington

    Leading lines created by Human Elements, Marymere Falls, Washington

Post Processing

Most waterfall photos are shot during soft overcast light that may render the original image flat and uninteresting. On top of this, I often encounter over or underexposed areas to accommodate bright highlights in the water. For these reasons, I pay particular attention to my post processing workflow that allows me to bring out the details and contrast without sacrificing the details in the highlights. Here is a before and after example from our Workflow Series: Waterfalls eBook.

  • Brandywine Waterfall (Ohio) before Lightroom Editing

    Brandywine Waterfall (Ohio) before Lightroom Editing

  • Brandywine Waterfall After Lightroom Editing

    Brandywine Waterfall (Ohio) After Lightroom Editing

This is exactly the type of information you will find in our Workflow Series: Waterfalls eBook and our Practical LR 2018.06 Tutorials. The Workflow Series: Waterfalls eBook will help you capture stunning waterfall photos in the field and the Practical LR 2018.06 Tutorials will show you how to bring out beauty and details in those photos.

  • Workflow Series Waterfalls eBook Cover

    Workflow Series: Waterfalls eBook

  • Practical Lightroom 2018-06 Tutorial

    Practical Lightroom 2018.06 – PLR2018-03

About Author Jay Patel

I could startoff like this – “Seeds of Jay Patel’s appreciation for beautiful places were planted early in his childhood….” but it would get boring really fast. I will just sum it up and say that I am a Landscape and Wilderness Photographer who loves to capture dramatic light. My photographs have been published in various magazines, calendars and advertising materials throughout the world.
Patience is a virtue...unless you are chasing your dreams