My family and I have just finished an amazing road trip through the Canadian Rockies. Needless to say a gazillion photos were taken and I thought I would share some of the things I learnt about taking photos of water falls on the way :)
I have a Nikon D7200 that we rarely take off automatic, and decided to try a few new things on this trip.
The photos I have included in this instructable are not altered in any way. It is pretty easy to use any one of the myriad of programmes our there to adjust your pictures to imporve the results. I decided not to do this here - plain old photos straight from the camera!
Step 1: What You Need
Ideally you need a DSLR camera, so you have options on shutter speed (how fast your camera takes the picture) and ISO (how sensitive the image sensor is to light)
I have not give specific instructions on how to set your camera to the different settings - there are too many different cameras and you will need to consult your owners manual for that :)
When taking photos at low speeds it is best to use a tripod to steady the camera and avoid any sort of camera shake! We didn't take a tripod with us and I had a lot of blurry photos...
Step 2: Location Weather Location
The photos above are some of the times I made bad choices about the location of my shot or the lighting.
In this digital age is is easy to lift the camera and shoot off a dozen shots without really thinking, but it pays to have a walk around your subject and look for the best spots before proceeding. I often find I end up deleting loads of photos because I was too far away, or on a funny angle, or too close.....
Keep an eye on light. Ideally you want consistent light - either all in shade or all in sun. Some of the falls we visited were in canyons, with dappled light. You can use this, but be careful as you will end up with patches that are either blown away (too light) or too dark to see detail. It is also sometime good to take photos when it is cloudy - provides a more even light with less stark shadowing.
Watch our for spray and the sunlight! You can get some great rainbow shots, but you can also get your gear pretty wet!
Step 3: How Fast Is Too Fast?
There are two basic types of waterfall photo - the frozen look and the misty smooth look. The first three photos above show the same spot and three different shutter speeds - from fast to slow.
If you are after the crisp frozen in motion look (photo 4) then you need a fast shutter speed. The first photo above was taken on the automatic setting at 1/500 sec. (iso of 100 and f9.5 for those who need more detail :) ) I have found that in decent light you will get this effect on your auto setting, however if you are taking a photo in a dark place you will need to adjust your speed up to compensate for the lack of light. This will either bring your depth of focus down (things in the long and short distance around your point of focus will be out of focus), or your ISO up (the photo may appear grainy if it gets too high)
My attempts at a misty smooth look varied in results... I tried just adjusting the shutter speed and letting the camera decide on focal length and ISO. That said I kept an eye on the focal length as I wanted to retail the depth of focus. Photos 5 and 6 above show some of the results. For these pictures I help the focal length at f36 as I wanted the foreground in focus, and adjusted the speed. The first is at 1/15 of a second and the second at 1/30 of a second. The second photo is 'blown away' (too much light) which I probably could have fixed by adjusting the ISO wildly, but I got what I wanted with 1/15. The other downfall with slow shutter speeds is things other than the waterfall moving - trees in the wind (or other tourists in my case!) keep an eye on your photos and adjust as necessary! You will need that tripod if the speed gets too slow.
You will need to take a picture, assess the results and adjust your settings as required. The basic premise is fast for frozen and slow for misty!
Step 4: Have Fun!
I enjoyed playing around with my camera and hope these tips will help other camera happy folks out there :) The more you play and practise the better your results will get! Each situation requires a different approach but you quickly learn what you might need to get the best picture :)