Photography Tip – Shooting a Waterfall

I’m new to Oregon and there are a zillion waterfalls…OK actually more like 238 major waterfalls, but still that is a whole lotta waterfalls to photograph. I was on my way to the Oregon Coast last week and one of the smaller falls, Fern Rock Falls, was not socked in and so I stopped and spent some time photographing the falls. It’s been a while since I photographed landscapes and I had to put my thinking cap on to remember all of the steps to making a good image. While they are fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share my tips for photographing waterfalls.

Equipment Needed to Photograph Waterfalls

 Camera – I know duh, but you do need a camera that allows you to control the aperture and the shutter speed. Most point and shoots and iPhones don’t have the necessary control to make an image that is something more than a snapshot for your social media.

Tripod – Also critical, because you are going to be working with long exposures and it will be impossible for even the best of you to hold your camera steady.

Wide Angle Lens – Depending on the size of the falls you are going to want a lens from about 16-35mm. Sometimes it’s nice to get details with a longer lens, but to get the whole falls you need to go wide.

Polarizer – Super critical, you can’t make the image without one, so don’t even think about trying without one. Even more important, don’t forget to rotate the filter so that it is working!

The shine on the water and other wet object is visible because the polarizer was not used correctly.

Before the polarizer was turned

The shine on the water disappears when the polarizer is properly used.

After the polarizer was turned correctly

Settings For Waterfall Photography

You can choose to shoot in Aperture Priority, Shutter Ppriority or Manual depending on your preference. I prefer to use Aperture because that is the easiest for me. Use what you are comfortable with not what you think you should be doing. In other words, manual focus is not the only/best way to make a nice image.

Aperture – You will want to use a narrow aperture (bigger numbers) in order to have enough depth of field that all of the falls and the environment are in focus. Something like F16 or F22. This will also help you achieve the long shutter speeds (often more than 1 second) to get silky cotton candy effect in your waterfall photos.

Shutter Speed – You’ll have to play with this one to get the effect that you want. This is a subjective thing and so embrace your inner artist and play with the speed until you get the look that you want. I like my waterfall photos to have that silky smokey look, but with some details so you know there really is water there. I try to start out at about 1 second and then go from there…

ISO – Go with a low ISO such as 100 in order to keep your noise levels low and to help get your shutter speed down where you need it to be.

Waterfall Photography Examples

A view of Fern Rock Falls from the bas of the falls photographed by Jeff Wendorff

Fern Rock Falls view from the foot of the falls

A wider view of Fern Rock Falls from the creekbed photographed by Jeff Wendorff

A wider view of Fern Rock Falls from the creekbed

Looking at Fern Rock Falls from the side of teh hill overlooking the falls photographed by Jeff Wendorff

Fern Rock Falls from the ledge on the side of the falls

Fern Rock Falls Location

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Fern Rock Falls Data

Height 35 feet
Tallest Drop 20 feet
Num. Drops 4
AVG. Width 5 feet
Pitch 90 degrees
Run 20 feet
Primary Form Tiered Horsetails
Watershed Tillamook Bay
Stream Fern Rock Creek
AVG. Volume 20.0 cfs
Source Unknown
Best Flows Winter – Spring

Landscape Photography Portfolio

I don’t have very many waterfalls (yet!) in my portfolio, but you can find these images and teh rest of my landscape images in my online photo gallery. You’ll be able to buy a print or license an image for your needs. And the cool thing is you can even just browse my photography! Check it out…HERE.

Oregon Coast Photography Workshop

I don’t have the dates set, but I am working on a plan to teach photography workshops here in Oregon. I’ll have the details on my Wildlife Nature and Creative Photography website…HERE.

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