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Some of my favourite landscapes to photograph are waterfalls. The smoothness of the water against the hard, sharp edges of the rocks or striking greenery that surrounds them can make for very pleasing compositions. Just follow these simple tips and you’ll be sure to get some great shots.
The best time to photograph waterfalls is after rainfall. This make the waterfall flow in full force, and the rainwater also helps saturate the foliage in the trees or on the rocks which creates a beautiful luminous green colour. Mud can also get washed into the river giving you a beautiful rustic gold and brown colour to the water which helps make it feel more surreal – almost like it’s been painted.
Unless the waterfall you are photographing requires a lot of effort to get to, it will likely attract crowds. One of the best ways to avoid this is to arrive very early in the day to stand a chance of having the place to yourself. But if you do find that it’s busy just try to wait for a gap in the flow of traffic or get close and crop out the people in the picture.
If you want to get the water looking smooth you’ll need a tripod so that you can have a slow enough shutter speed to capture the motion effect for the water whilst still keeping the rocks or trees sharp. Depending on the speed of the water, you can adjust your shutter speed to capture the desired effect. The first image above was taken at 6.0s whilst the second image was taken at 1.0s. Keep in mind that you may have to use ND (neutral density) filters to ensure you can have slow enough shutter speed.
Adding people into your photos can help bring it into context and tell more of a story. I had already got a few shots of this waterfall in Vietnam without anyone in it, but instead of just heading back to the hotel, I waited around until this couple arrived and stood on the bridge. For me this made the composition much more interesting than just an empty scene. So, don’t be afraid to add people into your image, but just make sure that you are either using a fast enough shutter speed to shoot handheld or you are using a tripod.
Another way to make the waterfall more interesting is to add something in the foreground as the viewer’s point of interest. This first image would have been quite dull without the rocks in the foreground, and they also help create a stunning sense of motion in the water as the stream has to flow around it. So don’t settle for the first angle that you get, instead look around to see if there is anything interesting which can enhance the composition.
Make sure you are extra careful when walking on rocks near waterfalls. The last thing you would want is to slip and damage your camera or even worse cause yourself injury. So take care when walking near a waterfall and make sure when you use a sturdy tripod which can support the weight of your camera. I would also advise you to have a plastic bag to cover your camera, as you usually get lots of water spray, and a cloth to wipe away water from the front of your lens.
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