6 Tips for How to Photograph Waterfalls

6 Tips for How to Photograph Waterfalls


Waterfalls are some of the most beautiful natural features you will ever get the chance to photograph and are a very popular subject for landscape photographers. Photographing waterfalls provides a great way to get outdoors and explore nature.

 Tips for How to Photograph Waterfalls

There is something magical about the patterns and sounds of flowing water that really heighten your senses and make you feel at one with nature. Although waterfalls look great, you may be wondering well how do I photograph them? Here are six tips to help you on your way.

1 – Get the right equipment

You will be better equipped to photograph waterfalls if you have the right equipment. A wide-angle lens is essential to broaden the angle of view and ensure you are able to photograph the whole waterfall. You will also be able to get up close to the falls rather than photographing them from a distance.

Once you have found a great waterfall and have the right equipment to capture it, you are ready to take some photographs.

6 Tips for How to Photograph Waterfalls

2 – Experiment with different shutter speeds

So now that you have the gear, how do you take photos that capture the authenticity and beauty of the scene?

When photographing waterfalls, finding the ideal shutter speed involves a lot of experimenting. This step is all about trial and error, which is part of the fun. Try taking shots with different shutter speeds and check out the results to see the differences.

I would recommend taking pictures with both fast and slow shutter speeds ranging from between 1/500th of a second to a few seconds and see which style of image you prefer.

3 – Freeze motion

How you shoot waterfalls effectively depends on the look and feel of the image you are trying to achieve. If you want to capture the water in a static way, you will need to choose a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of the water. This isolates the water in motion and gives a very different result to using an extended shutter speed.

See the difference between the three images below and how the change in shutter speed affects the water. (Images courtesy of dPS Managing Editor, Darlene Hildebrandt)

ISO 100, f/4, no ND filter, 1/640th of a second.

ISO 100, F/22, o.3 sec with ND filter

ISO 100, F/22, 1.3 sec with ND filter

4 – Blur motion

Using a slow shutter speed will help you to capture the water’s movement. You will find that the longer the shutter is open, the smoother the water will be. Be careful not to use a shutter speed that is too slow if the water is very fast flowing as the water may become one large white mass without any definition.

6 Tips for How to Photograph Waterfalls

Generally, you will obtain better results by using an extremely slow shutter speed of over a second. However, this will not be possible if you are hand holding the camera due to excessive camera shake, which brings us to the next tip.

5 – Use a tripod

Investing in a tripod will help to keep the camera more stable and enhance your chances of getting good images. The main advantage of using a tripod is that you are more likely to capture images of waterfalls that are sharper as the camera is less prone to movement during slower exposures.

Using a tripod will allow you to use slower shutter speeds to give you a smoother look and feel to your waterfall images. Images captured using long shutter speeds tend to look more dramatic and the silky water looks more appealing and pleasing to the eye.

If you do not have a tripod, you could set your camera on a stone or some other object to capture part or all of the waterfall.

6 Tips for How to Photograph Waterfalls

6 – Use a polarizing filter

One of the best ways to add some color to your images is to use a polarizing filter. This is a great way to deepen colors by increasing their saturation. But be aware that the polarizer also cuts the amount of light entering the camera, and thus increases your exposure by up to two stops of light.

6 Tips for How to Photograph Waterfalls

Polarizers also help to eliminate glare and reflections from the surface of the water and can be used to increase contrast. This is especially true when shooting during the day in bright conditions.

When adding a polarizer, the water you capture should become blurred, depending on how fast it is flowing. The advantage to using a polarizer is that you can increase the exposure time and slow the shutter speed, as the amount of light going through the lens is decreased. This allows you to create images with motion and silky-smooth water action.

Your turn

With these practical tips, it’s time for you to get out there and start photographing your next waterfall!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Jeremy Flint is a UK based award winning travel and landscape photographer, known for documenting images of beautiful destinations, cultures and communities from around the world. He recently won the Association of Photographers Discovery Award 2017 and the Grand Prize in the 2016 National Geographic Traveller and F11 Your Vision competitions. His pictures are represented by 4Corners images and have been featured in National Geographic Traveller, Outdoor Photography, Digital SLR Photography and national newspapers.

  • Von Will

    Nice photos and great tips Jeremy. These are my two attempts at photographing moving water. I should have paid more attention to the position of the branch. Both shot under cloud cover at F22 for 25 sec ISO 50. Location Bridal Falls BC Canada. https://www.flickr.com/photos/phyguy/ https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b467296d0aa206ded9bbc3c34f36adfed12e27527b36af9e485438b79348e6f1.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/59aae09367378d75cc6aaa78f06c6437edca4220d2400b00714d82e5016fb6f0.jpg

  • Tom Cooper

    I would add that it usually works best on overcast or at least partly cloudy days. Waterfalls in full sun are extremely difficult to capture well.

  • Jeremy Peter Flint

    Thanks Von, glad you like the article. You have some nice shots here and have captured the long exposures well. I really like the motion in the water.

  • Jeremy Peter Flint

    Your right Tom, photographing waterfalls does usually work best on cloudy days. I would encourage you to try and capture some shots of sunlit falls too, the lighting can be a really nice addition to an image.

  • Good article. Waterfalls are indeed great to take photos of! I do tend to scramble around to get a decent vantage point….I haven’t fallen in any river (yet), but I’d urge caution as wet rocks areusually covered in algae and can be very slippy! Hope you like the shot attached (of Skelwith Force in Cumbria. (This also proves you don’t need to walk for miles nor be a mountaineer – these magnificent falls are just 20 minutes from the centre of Ambleside in the English Lakes, one of the most beautiful places in the world, now a World Heritage Site and just an hour from my front door!)

  • Jeremy Peter Flint

    Thanks Mike. Yes, photographing waterfalls can get you into the most precarious positions! Great shot of Skelwith Force, I really like the motion of the cascades contrasting with the foliage. Your fortunate to live so near to one of our most beautiful locations in England, the Lake District is stunning.

  • steve26

    Hooray! Finally an article on photographing waterfalls which accepts as an option freezing the motion rather than turning the water into cream, a treatment which I believe has become clichéd.

  • Karon Heerdt


    Great articular. I love finding new waterfalls to shot. But I have also found that there are so many great images of waterfalls out there. I’ve tried to take photos under different setting instead of just the standard nice or over cast day. Such as this one with ice and snow on it.

  • waynebretl

    One thing to mention is to watch exposure so that the water doesn’t get overexposed into a featureless sheet of white. None of the examples have this problem, but it can happen when the fall is in sunlight and is surrounded by shade.

  • Jeremy Peter Flint

    Thanks Karon and thank you for sharing your lovely image. The static snow and motion in the water combine really well here and make a pleasing picture.

  • Jeremy Peter Flint

    Freezing motion does work well with waterfalls Steve and can sometimes look even better than long exposure shots.

  • Jeremy Peter Flint

    Thats right Wayne, tip 4 emphasises the importance not to use too slow a shutter speed and overexpose the water into a large white mass. Shooting a sun lit waterfall often requires an even faster shutter speed to maintain detail in the water.

  • John Syben

    Thank you! I’m glad to see I’m not the only one. Personally, I don’t mind a (very) little motion blur, but I’m not a fan of the “silky smooth” look. Just my personal taste.

  • Marc Thibault

    i have not big angle…lolllllonly 18-55 mmm and 35.mm with d5300,my next acquisition,

  • Jeremy Peter Flint

    Thanks for your comment John.

  • Jeremy Peter Flint

    Marc, the 18-55mm lens you have would also be a good lens choice for photographing waterfalls.

  • Marc Thibault

    ok,,,t.y.v.m Jeremy…have a good day

  • Russell Adams

    I shot “Ivey Creek Trickles” at Ivey Creek Falls in Buford GA. The waterfall is the result of an old grist mill dam. I laid down on the rocks below this point to get this shot of the falls, during a drought, so it is only 10 inches wide and 3 feet tall. When not in a drought, the waterfall is 100 feet wide and 10 feet tall at its tallest. Canon T5i, EF 24-105mm f/4-5.6, ND filter, about 1.5 seconds as. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/bc0fd1c0a36f9f68fd76372130e0ae690c08fad8bc404a1895e174ed19ca690a.jpg

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