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Photographing Waterfalls

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is blessed with some of the most dramatic waterfalls in the country. Often, I’ll return to the same sites to shoot the same waterfalls I might have shot years ago. My techniques keep getting better, and sometimes, weather conditions are better one year from the other years. My suggestion: Never be hesitant to return to the same sites you’ve visited before. Practice can make perfect! With repeat visits, you’ll learn the area better, familiarize yourself with the best lighting conditions for the subject, and compose your shots differently than in the past.

My tips for optimum waterfall shooting include:

  • Lighting: Like shooting trees in autumn, the best lighting is overcast, especially in between rain storms. In the Upper Peninsula, it rains almost every day in the fall. You want that dark diffused lighting in order to slow down your shutter speed.
  • Shutter Speed: In order to get that blurred-smooth-flow look to your waterfall scene, you need to shoot at a shutter speed of 1 to 1.6 seconds. In order to achieve a properly exposed scene at those slow shutter speeds, you’ll need to set your aperture to a setting of f/16 or smaller, up to f/22. You’ll get great depth of field, with the entire frame in focus too. If the lighting is too bright to bring your shutter speed down to 1 to 1.6 seconds, try a neutral density filter.
  • Your Camera’s Self-Timer: Using your cameras self-timer feature will accomplish the same effect as using a remote shutter release. When this feature is set, you press the shutter, and the camera doesn’t expose your film or image sensor for a pre-set number of seconds. Setting yourself timer to 5 seconds will allow for any vibrations to cease when pressing the shutter button.

Conclusion

At shutter speeds of 1 to 1.6 seconds, use of a tripod, a good tripod is a must. Additionally, at those speeds, you’ll also need the assistance of utilizing a remote shutter release. Using a remote shutter release eliminates any vibration introduced to your camera when your finger actually presses the shutter

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