Intimate close-up of an upper pool at the popular Sabbaday Falls.

Longer Days Ahead.

The sun is rising earlier and setting later, a sure sign that Spring is on the way. With the onset of Spring my attention is inevitably drawn to waterfalls. One of the great things about living in the state of New Hampshire is the abundance of waterfalls that can be found around the state. Luckily, one usually doesn’t have to drive very far to find them either. Whether it’s a popular named waterfall in the White Mountains, one where you may have to wait your turn for the best shooting spots, or the little known unnamed falls scattered throughout the state. Large or small, they’re everywhere and Spring is the best time to photograph them.


Tucker Brook Falls with Boulder.

The Etherial Flow.

 Soft, silky, like cotton candy, however you describe it, that silky flowing appearance of the water, so common in waterfall images, requires a long exposure. I generally want at least a 1/2 second exposure, but  5, 8, even 10 seconds or more isn’t uncommon. Because of these long exposures, the most important piece of equipment you’ll need for your waterfall photography is a tripod. For capturing the flowing water while rendering the surrounding scenery as sharp, a good sturdy tripod isn’t an option, it’s a necessity. Besides camera and lens, my tripod is the one thing that never gets left behind. This goes for any of my landscape photography, not just waterfalls.

As the Mad River in Farmington, NH, cascades over a bright green moss covered granite ledge, it shoots down a natural flume carved into the rock over the centuries. As it reaches the bottom of the flume, it enters a small pool and from there disappears into the forest beyond.

Controlling The Light.

A Circular Polarizing filter(CPL) is another must-have in my camera bag. Not only does it help remove the glare and reflection from the surface of the water, wet rocks, and leaves that may be in the photo, it also reduces the light coming through the lens by 1 1/2 to 2 stops. Reducing that light can help you achieve those longer exposures on brighter days. At times the light will still be too bright to allow a slow enough shutter speed even with a CPL in place. This is when a neutral density filter comes in handy. I carry a 4 stop square ND filter made by HiTech. This filter  is designed to slip into a filter holder mounted on the front of my lens, but I often just hand-hold the filter in place. ND filters are available in several variations, both glass or resin slip in type, and round screw on style with as much as 10 stops of light stopping power. Becoming more and more popular are Variable Neutral Density filters, screw on filters that can be adjusted by rotating them to give from 2 to 8 stops of light reduction. As with most anything, you get what you pay for so buy the best you can afford. Another tip with screw on filters, buy a filter that fits your largest diameter lens and then buy step up rings to fit it to your lenses with smaller diameter filter threads. That way you don’t need to buy multiple expensive filters in different sizes to fit all of your lenses.

The Blinkies Are Your Friend.

While shooting waterfalls I always pay close attention to the histogram to help avoid blowing out the highlights. I also turn on the “Blinkies” the highlight alert warning that flashes in the image preview. Overexposed highlights will flash as black, and you want little if any in the photo. I say little because if you’re shooting in RAW, as you should be, a small amount of overexposure can be brought back with the highlight recovery slider in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw, or other RAW converters.

The Weather At It’s Best.

Is not the best weather for waterfalls. The best time to photograph waterfalls is on grey overcast days. This will give you nice even lighting across the falls, enabling longer exposures, and more importantly, helping to reduce hot spots on some of the white water on the falls. Trying to get a decent exposure when part of the fall is in the shade and part in the sun will result in either a lot of blown highlights (there won’t be much detail in the flowing water, but it shouldn’t be a featureless bright white either), or a perfectly exposed waterfall surrounded by dark blocked up shadows. The nice even lighting of an overcast day makes getting good exposures almost easy.

Stream flowing from the base of Garwin falls, dappled sunlight is hitting the evergreen tree trunks on the bank

(The image of Garwin Falls, above, is a perfect example of what can happen when part of the falls is in the sun. Because of this there are several spots in the white water of the falls that are much brighter than I’d prefer)

Adventures In Composition.

**Let me start by saying that safety should be your primary concern when around swift running water, especially during the height if Spring runoff, and on the slippery rocks along the riverbank.**

That being said, a willingness to get a little wet, maybe more than a little, can often be the difference between your images being “me-too” copies of every other photograph of that particular waterfall, and being truly unique photographs you can call your own. Always with an eye towards self-preservation, more often than not, I can be found standing, even kneeling, and occasionally sitting, in the water downstream of my chosen waterfall.

Be careful. Be sure to empty your pockets(this one is very important, your iPhone probably won’t enjoy a swim). Give it a try. You’ll dry off on the hike back to the car. Just remember, no photograph is worth risking your safety.

Odds And Ends.

Here are a few pieces of equipment that, while not necessities, can make your waterfall photo adventures easier and more enjoyable.

Remote Shutter Release. Sure you camera’s self timer will work, but a remote means you don’t have to wait for the timer to count down. (Yes I am that impatient).

Knee Pads. My knees aren’t getting any younger and kneeling on stream side rocks and stones doesn’t help. Available at any home improvement store for little money. Not just for waterfalls either, they’re always with me when there’s no snow on the ground. Your knees, and pant legs, will thank you.

Micro Fiber Lens Cloth. If like me you find yourself kneeling in the water below a waterfall you’ll also find yourself dealing with a water drop or two finding its way onto your lens. There is nothing worse than getting home to find that “Winner” image ruined by a water spot in the middle of the frame. Check your lens often, and gently wipe it off.

23 thoughts on “Waterfall Season Is Almost Here.

  1. Beautiful waterfalls you captured Jeff. Often I am fascinated by photography and people who can turn even simple images into work of art, I am just wondering if you went to school to learn this mastery or you learned it all by yourself. Learning photography is one of my three goals I want to achieve in the next five years, but will I get this good as your waterfalls?

    1. No Valentina, I haven’t had any photography education at all. I have always been very “artistic” I guess you’d call it. When in school I pretty much lived in the art room. Every spare minute of my school day was spent there. Had I gone to college instead of into the military, it almost certainly been art school.

      You already possess most of the talent you need to improve your photography. Your artistic eye for design is the most important tool in your camera bag. Learning how to operate a camera is easy, putting your design talent together with a camera will certainly reward you with great photographs.

      Make waterfall photos as good as these? If you’re even a little “outdoorsy” and willing to get up and be out there early enough to get the best light, you’ll definitely come back with waterfall photographs you’ll be proud of. 😀

          1. Hey, I wish to have more time to learn photography, so I can measure with you, but I don’t think it will happen any time soon, so you will continue to have the uncontested primacy.

    1. Oh I’m really sorry. You mentioned it in the first phrase…
      But I only wanted you to congratulate for this awesome pictures though 🙂

      1. No problem at all. The shutter speeds mentioned in the post were only guidelines, not the shutter speeds of the images shown. Which is probably what I should have done 😉

    2. Thanks you for stopping by for a visit. 🙂

      The shutter speeds, from top to bottom in order of appearance are 4, 1.5, 2.5, and 10 seconds. I always experiment a little, but the biggest determining factor is the light. Brighter days will result in shorter exposure times unless you are using neutral density filters. I plan all my outings around the best light so I rarely use more than my circular polarizer.

      Good luck, stay safe, and stop back by and share your waterfalls. I’d love to see them.

  2. Funny timing. I just took a few photos of a river the other day. Not a full on waterfall, but the water was cascading across the rocks. I used different aperatures, as I played around, trying to better understand how this photography stuff all works. My brain is slow to the draw.
    I’ll have to look into the filters, though. Might need something like that as we get closer to summer and I actually have some sun in my pictures. Thanks for the great advice, Jeff.

    1. I would start with a circular polarizer first. As I mentioned, it’s almost all I ever need. Though I have been drooling over the variable neutral density filter I linked to. But that one is some serious $$ :-O

      1. Thanks, Jeff. As for some serious $$$, I’ve already got more lenses on the list. Yowsa, those buggers are pricey. I guess I’ll add a filter to the list, but I’ll put it waaaaaaay down at the bottom. (Not that I’ll get anything on this wishlist anytime soon. Ha!)

        1. You’re a Canon girl aren’t you? If so, go here, scroll down to the Marketplace section, and buy used. You’ll save quite a bit of money too. I’ve bought and sold a ton and with the exception of the 17-40 I just got and the 100-400 I bought when I first got into photography, I’ve bought all my lenses and 3 different bodies there. All in great shape, all for a lot less than new. If I had any patience whatsoever, and hadn’t just sold two big canvases, I would have bought the 17-40 there too 😀

  3. Great stuff, Jeff, and I’m sure many of your followers will be grateful that you have taken the time to share so much of your insight and experience. Can’t wait to see more! BTW, it’s really good to be back!

    1. Thanks Gary. I don’t know much, but what I do know I’m willing to share 😀

      I’ll bet, vacation is great, but as Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.”

    1. Having just come in from cleaning up the latest foot of snow, I have mixed feelings abut the longer days. The longer days mean sunrise is soooo much earlier, and sunset later, that I’ll see fewer of either until Autumn rolls around again.

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