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Capturing the Dynamic Flow of a Huge Waterfall

Waterfalls are one of the most popular subjects in landscape photography. The image turns out very differently depending on the composition you choose for the waterfall, as well as the shutter speed setting you use. In this article, I will explain the steps that a professional photographer would take create a photo with strong impact. (Reported by: Teppei Kohno)

FL: 32mm/ Manual exposure (f/20, 8 sec.)/ ISO 200/ WB: Auto/ Picture Style: Landscape/ ND filter: ND400. Used a tripod and remote controller.

I took this shot of a magnificent waterfall using an ND filter and a slow shutter speed. The motion of both the water flow as well as that of the clouds were captured, and added a dynamic effect to the resulting photo. Although the shoot took place on a clear day, there were many clouds in the sky, which helped me to capture the water flow with minimal blowout.

Step 1: Use a fast shutter speed to take your first shot

Standing facing the waterfall, I used a fast shutter speed to take my first shot. The flow of the waterfall was very fast. I tried capturing it at 1/1000 second, and was able to reproduce the droplets of the splashing water, which helped to convey the dynamic power of nature.

Step 2: Use an ND filter for expressing the motion of water in the day

I narrowed the aperture to f/22, and set the ISO speed and shutter speed to ISO 100 and 1/10 second respectively. Doing so made the entire image appear rather bright, and rendering of the water flow left much to be desired. It would have been better if I had slowed down the shutter speed further. The use of an ND filter is also advisable for a scene like this.

Step 3: Set the exposure while preventing blowout in the water flow

Here, I used an ND filter (ND400) and took a shot while adjusting the composition. I decreased the exposure slightly to prevent the highlights of the waterfall from appearing blown out. However, the resulting image seemed a little blurry.

Step 4: Slow down the shutter speed further to capture the flow of both the waterfall and clouds

In [Step 3] the image turned out blurry because I pressed the shutter button with my finger. To prevent camera shake from occurring, I made use of a remote controller this time. Additionally, I slowed down the shutter speed from 5 seconds in [Step 3] to 8 seconds. Doing so helps to capture not only the motion of the waterfall but that of the clouds as well, accentuating the visual contrast in the photo.

Be careful of camera shake and blowout in the water flow

There are two main points to take note of when you want to express motion in the water flow of subjects such as a waterfall or river. First of all, camera shake occurs when you are photographing at a slow shutter speed. To prevent this, set your camera firmly on a tripod and release the shutter using a remote controller. After taking a shot, magnify the image and check to ensure that it does not appear blurry.

The second point to watch out for is blowout. Any slight overexposure may cause blowout to occur in the water flow, and gradation would be lost as a result. Care is particularly required when there is direct sunlight. It is easier to carry out the shoot under a shade or on a cloudy day.

[Tip] Use the 2 second self-timer if you do not have a remote controller

As the name suggests, the 2 second self-timer releases the shutter two seconds after you have pressed the shutter button. Use this feature to prevent camera shake if you do not have a remote controller.

Teppei Kohno

Born in Tokyo in 1976, Kohno graduated with a Social Work degree from the Department of Sociology of Meiji Gakuin University, and apprenticed with photographer Masato Terauchi. He contributed to the first issue of photography magazine PHaT PHOTO and became an independent photographer after that, in 2003. The author of many books, Kohno not only shoots all sorts of commercial photographs, but also writes prolifically for camera and other magazines.