Capturing a great shot of silky waterfalls—with the moving water soft and smooth and set against a crisp, focused landscape—can be a bit tricky.
The key to this kind of photo is a relatively long shutter speed. And that’s where the challenge lies. The lighting situation may or may not allow for a long enough shutter speed to soften the moving water, at least not without overexposing parts of the image. Additionally, this long shutter speed can cause issues with camera shake, which can result in blurry images.
With all this said, a lot of what it takes to snap a great waterfall picture comes down to having the right equipment.
The Right Equipment for Photographing Waterfalls
A tripod is essential when photographing waterfalls in order to keep your camera steady when shooting with a shutter speed long enough to capture the motion of the flowing water.
The bottom line is that without a tripod, your waterfall photo is virtually guaranteed to be blurry. And that’s not the shot you want. So you are going to want to use a tripod.
Wide Angle Zoom Lens
Waterfall photos usually work best with a wide-angle zoom lens, something in the range of about 15-85mm.
Neutral Density Filter
A neutral density filter, sometimes called an ND filter, is a dark, neutral gray filter—so it doesn’t affect the color of a scene—that reduces the amount of light entering the camera lens, effectively increasing the exposure time. In other words, an ND filter increases the amount of time it takes to properly expose a scene.
For our purposes here, an ND filter allows for a slower shutter speed than the scene would normally require. With an ND filter the shutter can be left open for longer, allowing you the chance to capture the movement of the water without overexposing the rest of the image
Neutral density filters come in varying strengths, based on the darkness of the filter. The darker the filter, the more it reduces the amount of light coming into the camera.
By the way, you may not need a neutral density filter if you are also using a polarizer, since both type of filters cut down on the light entering the lens. It really depends on the lighting and landscape conditions of the water. The polarizer by itself may reduce the light enough to do the trick—allowing for a slow enough shutter speed to capture a silky waterfall.
For more information on neutral density filters, see our earlier post, The Basics Of Neutral and Graduated Density Filters.