Waterfalls are some of the most beautiful natural wonders you can photograph. But though they can look simply stunning, photographing waterfalls is not easy to do well. That Sunday I had gone to Kudremukh National Park hoping to photograph some birds or animals. It was drizzling on & off. As I couldn’t get any good sighting that day, I thought I will try my luck photographing tried and tested Bonnet Macaques at Kadambi falls which were featured in my blog earlier. Even they were on holiday. All I could get was a fleeting glimpse of Female Grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) on a very vertical slope of the waterfall.
So disappointed I turned towards the waterfall. To make matter worse the rain increased in intensity. After few minutes of a heavy rain there was brief break. That is when I tried to take few photos of the waterfall. For the waterfall photography light was perfect. There was no need of any ND filter as the light was very low intensity. I only used circular polarizer filter. I used my newly purchased Canon EOS 5D mark II with Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0 L IS Lens. As it was raining I did not have time to setup tripod. The bridge across the waterfall gave a nice view of the waterfall. So I opted to support the camera on the bridge railing to take shots. Aperture was kept at f/22. Shutter speed varied from 1/2 to 1.5 seconds.
When we need photograph waterfall you need to understand that water can be photographed in two ways. One using fast shutter speed which freezes water droplets make the waterfall looks like that it is suddenly frozen. Better way to photograph a waterfall is to use slow shutter speed. The key to getting a silky water effect is to use a slow shutter speed. Balanced and diffused light is great for waterfalls because it helps bring out details in the shadows and amplify the contrast. The best diffused light occurs on overcast days (the clouds act as natural diffusers). It is better to walk around the waterfall and explore different angles and camera positions. Shoot at an angle instead of directly in front of the falls. As it was a restricted national park and since it was raining I did not have liberty to do those. So I stuck to the common front of the waterfall picture.
To get that silky water effect you see in all the waterfall photographs, you’ll need a long shutter speed. So, set the camera to Manual mode. Use a small aperture which helps you get a longer shutter and it helps keep everything in sharp focus. I recommend starting with f/16 and then going smaller if that doesn’t give you a slow enough shutter. Some photographers will tell you to always use the smallest aperture possible on your lens, but I avoid this because lenses usually lose sharpness at their smallest apertures due to diffraction.
Use the lowest ISO speed on your camera. This also helps you get a longer shutter, but it has another benefit too: lower ISO speeds will produce less noise and capture more dynamic range. Since you’ll be using a long shutter speed, your image will be much more sensitive to noise, so a low ISO will help prevent that noise. Start with a shutter speed of a few seconds. When photographing waterfalls, finding the right shutter speed involves a lot of experimentation, but a speed of 2 seconds is usually a good place to start. Be prepared to use shutter speeds ranging from 1 to 30 seconds. Unfortunately since I could not use my tripod I used relatively faster shutter speed of 1 second.
Common mistake is to use faster shutter speed. Just to show you what happens I used a commonly used shutter speed of 1/90th of a second in this last shot before I ran to cover to escape from the rain. See the water droplets which are frozen and falls does not look as silky as it should. I plan to go there again once rains are reduced so that I can get the really long exposure and the subsequent really silky effects.