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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.