Thompson falls pinkham notch new hampshire
For a different perspective I waded into the stream below Thompson Falls in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

In Part 1 of my waterfall photography series I discussed the gear you’ll find in my bag when I head out to photograph them, and in Part 2 I talked about camera settings and how I choose them.

Now in the third and final installment I’d like to share some thoughts on composition and how to help set your waterfall photos apart from all the rest.

Cascade Composition. 

When it comes to composing waterfall photographs my strategy is simple, get wet, get low, and above all, look for a unique perspective.

Get Wet. 

Surprisingly most people don’t even consider the idea of getting in the water for a different perspective when photographing waterfalls.

Not me.

About the only time you’ll ever see me photographing a waterfall from dry land is when its unsafe to do otherwise. If I feel I can safely wade into the river or stream below a waterfall and capture a unique angle, I won’t hesitate for a second to get right in.

SAFTEY, SAFETY, SAFETY!!

I cannot stress enough the importance of safety when it comes to stepping into a river or stream. The current can be fast and powerful, especially during spring runoff or after a heavy rain. Also, the rocks are often very slippery. Very, very slippery. Only attempt getting into the water if you are 100% confident in your abilities and have realistically assessed the conditions. 

 

Get Low. 

waterfall_in_the_forest_3275-Edit
By setting my tripod below this little plunge I was able to capture a low to the water perspective.

We view the world from eye level every day, sometimes the easiest ways to create a compelling photograph is to simply lower(or raise) your camera. This goes hand-in-hand with getting wet, which I had to do in order to set my tripod up for the photo above.

If your camera has a tilting LCD you can even make low to the water compositions with out getting wet. Well not too wet 😉

Try Something Different.

ghosts_of_the_upper_ammo_1302-Edit-Edit
Waterfall selfie.
potholes_at_upper_ammonoosuc_falls_5535-Edit-Edit
Looking down on Upper Ammonoosuc Falls.

Avoid the Obvious, Try Something Unique.

When first visiting a waterfall, quite often there’s a composition that’s immediately obvious.

Avoid it.

If it’s obvious to you it was probably obvious to the last hundred people to photograph there as well. Instead, try to find something new. Whatever it is, try to NOT take the same photo everyone else has.

When scouting new waterfalls the first thing I do is search Google for images of it, then once I’ve studied them a little I put every effort into not taking the same photos.

Let’s take a look at the two photos above. Both were taken at Upper Ammonoosuc Falls in New Hampshire. This spectacular waterfall is pretty much road-side and has been photographed countless times I’m sure. So with that in mind, once I captured a few more conventional compositions, I decided to try something a little different.

For the first picture I set my camera up for a 30 second exposure and set my Canon TC-80n3 timer remote to give me enough time to run upstream, cross the bridge, then scramble down to get into position. The result, due to misjudging the time, is me as a ghost* staring upstream into the distance. While I was hoping for a more “normal” selfie of me, I liked this one so much I didn’t bother to try again and get the timing right.

*Ghostly me is the result of me moving out of the frame before the exposure was finished.

For the next photo not only did I chose a faster shutter speed in order to show some of the power of the waterfall,* I decided to lay my tripod on its side, legs fully extended, so I could hang my camera out over the edge for a more straight down view.

 

*Besides being a spectacular example of how water can wear down granite given enough time, Upper Ammonoosuc Falls’ other claim to fame is that it is New Hampshire’s deadliest swimming hole, claiming over a dozen lives throughout the years. 

 

pothole_dianas_baths_5412-Edit.jpg
Look past the big picture.

Another trick for making unique waterfall photos is to try and look past the big picture. Some waterfalls and cascades are so big and impressive the first thought is, “how am I going to fit this all into one photograph?”

Diana’s Baths is one such place. With really good flow only during spring runoff and after heavy rains (I personally have never seen it as good as it is in the linked video), photographing the entire waterfall often results in rather unspectacular photos with a lot of rock and little water. However, even when the flow is low there are still a lot of chutes, plunges, and small falls to occupy your time.

After wandering around a bit, the small pothole in the above photo caught my eye. With the large center rock surrounded by numerous and colorful smaller rocks I knew it would make an interesting foreground. So I set my camera as close to the water as I could(yes I was on my knees to get this shot), and framed the composition you see here.

 

Cairn At Beaver Brook Falls
Portrait orientation, not just for people anymore.

Lastly, just because this is “landscape” photography doesn’t mean you need to keep your camera in landscape orientation.

When getting ready to photograph a waterfall that’s a lot taller than it is wide I will almost always photograph it with my camera set in the vertical, or portrait, orientation. It’s not much, but you’d be amazed at how often people don’t even think about photographing a landscape image in anything but landscape orientation.

Hopefully with the information I’ve shared in this three part series on waterfall photography your next waterfall photography adventure results in even better waterfall photos.

Hopefully you find some of these tips useful on your next waterfall adventure.

If you’d like to learn more in person, while photographing some truly amazing waterfalls, there are still 3 spots left for my upcoming White Mountain Waterfalls Workshop. Click HERE for more details or to reserve your spot on this waterfall adventure weekend.

8 thoughts on “Waterfall Photography Part 3: Composition

  1. Jeff:

    Thanks for the guidelines, I have made reservations at the hotel you and Bryan suggested. Do you intend for us to meet as a group Friday night and if so where.

    Thanks, Joel

    >

    1. Hi Joel, we will be meeting air the hotel Friday for introductions then we’ll head out to one of the local waterfalls. Keep an eye on your inbox this weekend for an email with more specifics.

  2. Your posts have been really informative and helpful. Once I get a camera and tripod — and a waterfall — I will feel pretty confident about playing around and trying your suggestions. Thank you!

  3. Beautiful images but I am sure I would not take the risks you did to get some of these shots, especially the “ghost” portrait. I was at Watkins Glenn Gorge this fall and I dared not get that close to the rushing water.

Comments and thoughtful critiques are always welcome.

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