Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Waterfalls...getting "flowy" water

Horsetail Falls
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon
Fujifilm X-E2, 18-55mm
It's no secret -- I love waterfalls.  I love photographing waterfalls.  And while photographing waterfalls isn't quite rocket science there are a few basics to follow to get good images.

The first, of course, is to have the right hardware for the job.  In addition to your camera you should have it mounted on a good ballhead which in turn should be mounted onto a good tripod.  A circular polarizing filter is essential for minimizing glare and reflections.  A remote shutter release helps with camera stability while photographing.  A graduated neutral density filter can be employed to tone down "hot spots" in the sky or in the water.  Plastic bags and a microfiber cloth will help keep your camera and lens dry (waterfalls can have enormous spray).

Photographing water basically has two extremes -- very fast exposures to stop action and longer exposures to give water what my friend and teacher Willard Clay likes to call a "flowy look."  Most people want waterfalls to look "flowy" which means longer shutter speeds.  It's hard to shoot slow in very bright light so waterfalls are best photographerd right after sunrise, right before sunset or on an overcast day.  The cable release will help minimize camera movement to ensure a sharper image. 

With all of these ducks in a row just remember to "shoot slow for the flow."

Ponytail (Upper Horsetail) Falls
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon
Fujifilm X-E2, 18-55mm

I try to shoot waterfalls at various times of the year.  The force of the water in the spring after the snow melts is usually quite powerful -- but so, too, is the spray that can frustrate a good photograph. It's often a losing battle just to keep your camera and lens dry.  Go too late in the year and your waterfall may be just a trickle of water.

Snoqualmie Falls, Washington
Fujfilm X-E2, 18-55 mm

Snoqualmie Falls -- a half hour or so east of Seattle -- can be photographed at any time of the year. This shot a couple of weeks ago would have been more more challenging in the spring when the spray could soak you and your equipment.

A good waterfall photograph requires the right gear, the right light and the right attitude:  "Shoot slow for the flow." 

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