Simple Tips for Photographing Waterfalls

Simple Tips for Photographing Waterfalls



The smoothness of the water against the hard, sharp edges of the rocks or greenery that surrounds them can create very pleasing compositions. But, like all types of landscapes, photographing waterfalls can be challenging.

Follow these simple tips and you’ll be sure to get some great shots:

Find the Right Season

The best time to photograph waterfalls is after rainfall as it means the water is in full force, and the rain helps saturate the greens in the forest, or the moss on the rocks, which will produce a beautiful luminous green colour. Avoid the drier seasons as you may find that the waterfall is no more than a trickle. Waterfalls are best photographed on overcast or cloudy days, as the even light can compensate for the harsh contrasts between the water and the rocks or vegetation.

Arrive Early

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 when you usually have the place to yourself. But if you do find that it’s busy, just wait for a gap in the flow of traffic or get close and crop out the people in the picture. Remember that you could also try to incorporate people into your image, which can give the same waterfall a completely different context.


This waterfall was packed with tourists the day before when I first visited. So I went back the next day at 6am and had the place to myself for two hours.

Think About Your Shutter Speed

There is no right or wrong way to photograph moving water. Some people prefer to photograph the water in a way that captures the details, and some prefer to capture a smooth silk-like movement. Your shutter speed is key in determining how much movement you want in the water; 1/15th of a second should be a good starting point for blurring the water (go slower if you want more blur) and 1/250th or higher should start to freeze the water. If you are going to be photographing using slow shutter speeds remember to use a tripod to ensure you capture sharp images. A polarizing filter is also handy if you want to minimize unwanted light reflections in the water or rocks.


Experiment with different shutter speeds to get the desired effect for the flow of water.

Don’t Focus on the Waterfall

It might seem like a strange thing to say, after all the waterfall is the hero of the shot. But if you want to make the waterfall more interesting sometimes it better to make it secondary in the composition. By adding something in the foreground it will capture the viewer’s interest, then you can lead their eyes to the waterfall. This could be anything like rocks, a fallen tree, leaves, or even potholes. Not only will it make your photo more interesting but it can also help create a sense of movement in the water. So don’t settle for the first angle that you get, instead look around to see if there is anything interesting, which can help the composition. The key is to take your time rather than rushing to the next place.


By including more of the foreground the waterfall becomes secondary in the image but the viewer’s eyes are still led to it from the foreground.

Look for People

One of the best ways to make your photos look original and also give them context is to include people. Not only can including people provide a sense of scale, but it can also help your photo become more interesting, and tell a story. So don’t be afraid to add people into the image. Just make sure that you are either using a fast enough shutter speed to shoot handheld or you are using a tripod.


To avoid the crowds arrive early. Or you can always try to incorporate people into your image.

Waterfalls make for fantastic photos, but as with all landscape photography you need to try and think beyond the obvious. Waterfalls are well photographed and to make your images stand out you need to be prepared to dedicate the time and effort needed to capture them at their best.

Now it’s your turn. Share your photos, thoughts and tips below.

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Kav Dadfar is a professional travel photographer based in the UK. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images and Robert Harding World Imagery and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, American Express, and many others. Kav also leads photo tours around the world teaching people how to improve their photography. Join him on his 11 day epic photo tour of Scotland. Find out more at Scotland Photo Tour

  • Thanks for a great article!! Can’t wait until I go to Wales so I can try some of these tips!!

  • The CW

    I was once told to not chase waterfalls.

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  • Emil Kadlic

    Waterfall photography takes time to get a perfect shot. I tried before but i didn’t get right all the time. I think following the instruction given by you probably help me a lot.


    Thanks for the detailed tips on photographing waterfall very useful.

  • Hannah

    I love these photos! Definitely trying this today.

  • Saptashwa Bhattacharya

    As lucrative as the photos look, I know how much pain it is to get the perfect shot.
    I have been trying a lot lately for that smooth water against the crisp rocks feeling, but I never managed one.

    My photos are either over or underexposed. Any help with the exposure triangle?

  • Bhaskar23

    . Any help with the exposure triangle?

    Buy some ND filters and see the magic.

  • pw4

    Exposure taking the shot: do a range or use AEB. Ideally, use Manual settings for best control as you’ll be balancing exposure brightness with shutter speed while maintaining your depth of field.
    In post-processing, adjust exposure based only on the waterfall (this the result of much trial-and-error with a waterfall shot that was worth all the effort!). It’s the key feature – get ITS exposure right.
    Use a polarizing filter to control reflections at the base of the waterfall (you may want them or not).
    An ND8 filter (+polarizer) allowed me 1/4 second exposure in midday tropical sun. 1/4 second gives nice motion to the water without it looking like a solid white object (unless you want that effect).


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  • Canon Guy

    Get yourself a neutral density filter. I too had a problem with getting the silky smooth effect when shooting waterfalls. I bought a set of ND Cokin filters and stack them to slow my shutter speed. Be sure to use a tripod, and mirror lock up. This also will keep your photos crisp. Good luck and have fun.

  • Kav Dadfar

    There are no shortage of waterfalls in Wales so you’ll have plenty of opportunities! Kav

  • Kav Dadfar

    Ha ha ha Good advice.

  • Kav Dadfar

    No worries glad you enjoyed it.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Glad to hear the article was useful Emil.

  • Kav Dadfar

    No problem. I’m glad you found it helpful.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Thanks Hannah! And yes get out there and experiment/practice.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Good advice guys. And yes ND filters are a big help. But think about things like time of day and weather. For example a cloudy day is much better as you get an even light. And also time of day is important. Early morning and late afternoon you’ll get a soft light. Midday and harsh overhead light will give much harsher contrasts. And a tripod is a must! Hope this helps.

  • Todd Walker

    Know your composition, weather, location, filters and of course … the use of manual mode.

  • sofarsogood

    One other point that I don’t see mentioned and is very important: On a tripod, be sure and turn your image stabilization OFF, if your camera or lens is so equipped. When your system sees moving water, it will attempt to correct for it. Of course, everything that is not moving will now be blurred.

  • Alan Elwell

    Shot this at Crystal Falls, NSW, squatting on a rock in the middle of the water, with my tripod in the wet, my arthritic knees complaining, and damned near fell into the drink. Twice!

  • Kav Dadfar

    Hi all sorry for the late reply, I’ve been in a remote part of Texas on a shoot

  • Kav Dadfar

    Very nice Alan! Is the purple added in post production? And well done for not falling in i usually do end up with wet feet at some point.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Beautiful shot and location. Where is this Todd?

  • Alan Elwell

    Just a touch, yes. But it was present in the colour of the rocks to begin with.

  • Todd Walker

    Close to home (central NY)

  • Jess

    I feel you need to add at least two joke tips like, “Don’t get too close” and “Whatever you do, don’t drown”. Although maybe that’s just my twisted sense of humor talking. 😛

  • Betty Wang

    Thanks for the tips! This photo was taken at the Fern Spring, Yosemite National Park.

  • Balázs Fazekas

    Small but i like it

  • Kav Dadfar

    Very nice! Perfect timing and I love the green reflection, it make the photo work. Good work. Kav

  • Kav Dadfar

    Nice, love vignette in the shot and depth of field. Good work. Kav

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