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Photographing Waterfalls: Basic Tips

Waterfalls are a popular photography subject, but how do you capture a unique, compelling picture of them? Landscape photographer Edwin Martinez has photographed them countless times, and in this 2-part series, he shares with us some tips based on his experience. (Text by: Edwin Martinez)

EOS 5DS/ EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 16mm/ f/8/ 1/8 sec/ ISO 800/ WB: Auto

Waterfalls are one of the most elegant subjects in landscape photography. The world is full of these wonders; the Philippines alone has thousands of waterfalls. There are many different types of waterfalls: cascade, plunge, multi-step, tiered, punch bowl, etc. Each has its own beauty to behold. I have photographed these subjects countless times, and here, I share some tips based on my experience. 


1. Include interesting layers in your composition
These layers could be anything, from mossy rocks, to flowers, to curved lines of cliffs. Add these layers as anchor points to your photos.

Haifoss, Iceland
EOS 5DS R/ EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 16mm/ 2.0 sec/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto


2. Technique plays an important part in photographing waterfalls
Use slow shutter to have that bridal veil effect. A shutter speed from ¼ to 4 seconds is the optimal, it blurs the water but still leaves enough details. Long exposure can also work for strong or bigger waterfalls: 30 seconds to 1 minute usually works for me.

Waterfall from Lake Sebu
EOS 5D Mark III/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL: 18mm/ f/11.0, 1/5 sec/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto


Kirkjufellfoss, Iceland
EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L III USM/ FL: 16mm/ f/16.0, 61.0sec/ ISO 200/ WB: Auto


3. Use lens filters to achieve the technique
Use an ND filter that is between 6 to 10 stops to achieve slow shutter or long exposure effects.

Waterfalls in Lake Sebu
EOS 5D Mark III/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL: 16mm/ f/20.0/ 5.0sec/ ISO 50/ WB: Auto
A 6-stop ND filter was used to capture this image.


4. For your basic exposure setting, use f/8 to f/16
This will give you sharper results. Use ISO 100 to 200 to reduce noise, and always use a timer or remote.

Baerfoss, Iceland
EOS 5DS/ EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 16mm/ f/11.0, 6.0sec/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto


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Edwin Martinez

Edwin Martinez
Edwin Martinez is widely respected as one of the finest landscape photographers the Philippines has ever produced. His vast experience shooting different locales in his home country and abroad - in Iceland, Canada, The American West, among others - have cemented for Edwin an undisputed distinction of expertise in the field of photography. He is a Canon Philippines Brand Ambassador, a National Geographic adventurer contributor and constant presence in both local and international photography publications. Furthermore, he is also major partner in Iceland’s number one photography tour and workshop,  Edwin is also a dedicated mentor to photographers, whether it is in the workshops that he teaches or the photography tours that he guides to the most challenging and stunning locations around the world under Wide Horizon Photo Adventure. Edwin is a sought after speaker and instructor and also shoots for several high profile companies. He is an inspiration for this generation's band of photographers and many wait for photos from his next adventures.