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1. Digital photography of waterfalls, like most subject matter, doesn’t require much, if any, specialized equipment. A camera that can be operated manually and a tripod are the only requirements. Taking wonderful waterfall photos is more about how you understand the place where you’re shooting and your camera skills.
2. The direction of sunlight during different times of the day is one of the first bits of knowledge you should understand about the location of a waterfall. As professional landscape photographers will tell you, the best times of the day to shoot most of the best outdoor images are during sunrise and sunset, and even into twilight. This applies equally to waterfalls. You don’t want to schedule your waterfall shoot, however, during the early morning if the eastern sun will strike the face of the falls directly. Return during the late afternoon when the sun will be behind the falls. Since, many waterfalls are found in narrow gorges or canyons or encircled by small hills and woods, direct sunlight seldom penetrates the scene, anyway.
3. You can avoid any issues with the direction or strength of the sunlight if you photograph a waterfall on a cloudy, overcast day. Most of the day will equal the light level of sunrise and sunset, giving you more time to find and make some wonder with a waterfall. Just remember to compose your images without any sky included. The flat, colorless undersurface of the clouds will rob your images of vibrancy.
4. Before you even start taking pictures of a waterfall, investigate it closely. View it from a number of different angles, from both sides of the water, upstream and downstream. Move in close and watch how the water breaks over the rocks or the ledge. Spend a few minutes study the cascading of the water carefully. With this additional information, you’ll be able to classify the waterfall on a scale of raging and noisy to gentle and quiet, and various iterations between these extremes.
5. Once you understand what kind of waterfall you are trying to make wonderful in your digital photos, you’re more likely to select the best exposure settings. Your ultimate goal, however, is to retain some of the character seen in the details of the falling water. Otherwise, it will look like a relatively flat, white plain, robbing your photos of interest, dimension and dynamics.
6. This is why having a camera with manual exposure control is important. Begin by selecting the lowest ISO sensitivity, ISO 100 on many cameras, but it could also be ISO 50. Select an aperture, or f/stop, that will deliver the sharpest focus. This is typically f/8 to f/11. Your camera will then show what shutter speed is correct for this combination of ISO and aperture.
7. Don’t hesitate to do some experimenting, but start with exposures of ¼ of a second to a full second if the waterfall is large and powerful. The water will give the illusion of moving and the exposure will be fast enough to render some of the details clearly.
8. “Fairyland” waterfalls, small and trickling, typically require a considerable longer exposure of 1 to 4 seconds. Some sharpness may be lost as your exposure formula requires apertures smaller than f/11, even to f/22, but it won’t be noticeable unless you’re making very large prints. Plus, the wonder you’ll record of the feathery movement of the water is more important to the interest of your digital photos than a bit of negligible softness.
9. The final tip about making waterfalls wonderful is to remember that each is unique both in the path and motion of the water and the environment in which you find it. Logically, therefore, each must be photographed slightly differently to capture the best images possible. As mentioned above, experimentation is the key. What you learn photographing one waterfall will help you with the next, but each will be a unique digital photography learning experience.
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Photograph by Photography Talk Member Trish Barnes