Being an outdoor photographer, I often encounter waterfalls at some of the locations I'm visiting both at home and abroad. Their elegance, movement and ever-changing character make them a popular subject among photographers. Despite their beauty, they can be challenging to capture for a number of reasons. The intensity of the light and the time of day are two of the most important aspects to consider. Diffused light when the sun is less intense makes it easier to achieve a more balanced exposure. On bright sunny days and in high contrast situations it can be extremely difficult to achieve an acceptable result.
There is often a misconception that static subjects present little in the way of a challenge; which is completely untrue. Photographing waterfalls can be tricky, there are many technical obstacles to overcome and a degree of experimentation is often required to achieve the correct balance. The flow of a waterfall, the drop, its structure and scale all have a bearing on shutter speed and aperture selection and the finished result. There is no single technique that works in every situation; the effect you desire is related to all of the above-mentioned factors. Polarising and ND filters are often useful aids for achieving the desired result.
The examples illustrated below are among some of the images I have accumulated when working in my own country or through workshops further afield. In the majority of cases, I have not set out specifically to photograph them; however, having said that I enjoy capturing their beauty and charm when I come across them. In many of these situations, I have had to deal with the lighting conditions at the time. Sometimes the light was to my advantage, and on many occasions, it was not. Successful waterfall photography requires timing, selecting the ideal conditions when there is sufficient flow. It may often require several visits to get an acceptable result although this is not always possible especially when photographing away from home. You may only have a single opportunity and are therefore forced to deal with the conditions at the time, which has been the case with many of the examples illustrated below.
Although there are technical aspects to overcome, don't forget to consider the creative side; its easy to just photograph everyone from a similar position creating a uniform look with the characteristic blur, which I call the 'marshmallow effect'. Don't be afraid to experiment; water can be so expressive when photographed showing the tranquil side, but also consider illustrating other aspects that show its speed and ferocity.
Thompson FRPS FIPF award winning natural history photographer, author, freelance writer, conservationist and entomologist. Specialising in macro, travel, aerial and conventional landscapes nature & wildlife photography. Frequent contributor to the photographic press and other natural history publications. Photography seminars, lectures workshops. Specialist interest in insects especially butterflies, moths, saturniidae, dragonflies, seashore, plants, orchids., fungi and lichens.