Page 1 of 1

Photographing Waterfalls

Posted: Thu Sep 27, 2007 3:06 pm
by SMS
Hi all. I am looking for some pointers on photographing fact just moving water of any kind. I keep seeing photographs where the moving water is made to look sort of whispy or hazy. I think this may come from adjusting the shutter speed, but I am not quite sure. I have a Canon Rebel G camera that I bought about 5 years ago for a photography class I took. I am really embarrassed to say that I don't remember much about how to use it...well the special funtions at least...I obviously am not so good at retaining the information learned in class. :? Ugh, I'm upset with myself just thinking about it. Anyway, any pointers you might have would be greatly appreciated. Also, any tips on photographing the beautiful foliage?...or a suggestion on a type of film that really captures the color?

Thanks!!! :)

Posted: Thu Sep 27, 2007 8:02 pm
by Andy
Sara: You are on the right track here. I took the "Mad River" and "Alder Meadow" shots you may have seen on the photo section here. The way you give the water that "cotton candy" look is to use a longer shutter speed. Every photograph (whether with film or digital) has 3 critical variables: Shutter Speed, Size of the Aperature, and the ISO rating. The all relate to each other. For waterfall photos you want as low an ISO rating as you can, primarily because you will get better image quality. When you properly expose a photo, you have to get these relationships right. It is all about the amount of light that is exposed to the film or digital sensor at a given sensitivity. As a general rule, as make the aperature larger, you have to use a faster shutter speed, and vice versa. The other factor, though is movement (which will create a blur). You can have camera movement (which is usually a bad thing) and subject movement, which can be either good or bad (its bad when its a person or wildlife and you don't want a blur).

Waterfalls will need a shutter speed of 1/15 second or slower in order to get the desired effect. the ONLY way you will get this to look decent it to mount the camera on a sturdy tripod and use a (preferably) cable release, or the self-timer function on the camera to eliminate camera movement. You cannot handhold at those speeds, or you'll get a blurry mess in the whole photo.

Your rebel should have a function that lets you set the desired shutter speed (usually called shutter speed priority) and the camera meter will set the aperature for you.

A couple of things to be careful of.

1. Bright sunshine will almost certainly make your camera tell you it is impossible to get a proper exposure at that shutter speed. You can sometimes help this with either a polarizing filter or a neutral density filter.

2. You may be able to adjust the ISO rating if you have a digital camera.

3. Waterfalls are usually best photographed on overcast days or very early in the morning.

4. Be careful not to let your camera meter fool you. Modern "matrix" type meters are pretty "smart" but they really aren't smart at all. They are designed to make whatever you point them at a "neutral gray" color. So if you meter off bright water highlights (white), your photo will end up underexposed. If you meter off dark shadow areas (often in the rocks), your photo will end up overexposed. Try some different exposures, especially if you have a digital camera - and look for an area that is supposed to be a neutral gray color and meter off of that.

Good luck. If you don't already know about it, there is a great site on waterfalls, locations, etc. here:

Posted: Thu Sep 27, 2007 8:06 pm
by Andy
Sarah: Sorry about the misspelling of your name.

Re: using your camera, a book I really like because it is easy to read and understand is "Understanding Exposure" by Bryan Peterson. You can find it at Amazon and often in the local Walden Books or Barnes & Noble type store. Its a paperback and is well - illustrated. He does the best, most understandable job of anyone explaining what I attempted to explain above. I have lots of photo books and if I had to keep one or two and discard the rest, it is one I would keep.

Best of luck

Fall Photo Tips

Posted: Thu Sep 27, 2007 9:14 pm
by Pentaxguy
As Andy pointed out correctly, your best bet on photographing moving water for that silky effect, is to use a long exposure at your lowest ISO. But while Andy suggested setting the camera on shutter priority, I've had great success setting it to aperture priority at my smallest aperture (f16 or 22) to demand the longest shutter speed from the camera. Of course a polarizer or neutral density filter adds to a longer exposure. If it's too long, you can back off on the small aperture. And, as Andy suggests, be aware that a highly reflective scene can fool the camera, so bracketing is a smart move. Overcast conditions are ideal for even exposure, and a warming filter on a film camera, or shade or overcast white balance on digital camera helps warm up the image. Shooting backlit moving water can be a real treat too. Specular highlights off the water add sparkle to the image.

You asked about what kind of film is the best to use for fall foliage photography, and I have always been thrilled with the results I have gotten from Fuji Velvia and Kodak Elite Extracolor (EBX) transparency films. The polarizer helps, and enhancing filters can also bring out the reds and oranges in the scene. Bracket the shots to get the exact effect you're after. For digital cameras, set your saturation levels higher, and using the shade or overcast setting on white balance can also warm the image's bright colors.

Posted: Fri Sep 28, 2007 7:47 am
by Andy
The suggestion to use your smallest aperature to get the camera to use a slower shutter speed underscores the relationship I attempted to explain. Probably the best way to to it (IMHO) is to use your camera's manual setting, meter the exposure correctly and set the aperature and shutter speed for the effect and look you want. Either method (aperature priority or shutter priority) will work, but it is really cirtical--as with any tool--to understand what it is doing.

I am one of those "curmudeons" (geez and I am only 50) who feels that to learn SLR photography, a person should ONLY have an all manual camera to start with. The automatic stuff is great, but it can make us lazy as photographers and if you don't understand the basics, you really cannot use it to its best potential.

However, I was thinking you wanted a "quick fix" for the fall foliage season that is upon us.

I haven't shot a roll of film in 5 years, so I have no idea what advances there are. I agree that for vivid outdoor shot color, Velvia was hard to beat. I found that the "consumer" Fujia Sensia II had pleasing color and was reasonably priced (I didn't care for the original Sensia). Don't even know if its available anymore.

Posted: Fri Sep 28, 2007 7:49 am
by Andy
Thanks for jumping in, PentaxGuy. Hope you'll do more here. It has been a hope of a couple of us that this could develop into a real photographer's forum with some discussion about photography, which would enhance the experience here.

Posted: Fri Sep 28, 2007 10:09 am
by SMS
Andy & Pentaxguy: Thank you soooo very much for your help! You both really know your stuff! :D I really appreciate you taking the time to explain things to me, and share your suggestions and expertise. I'm looking forward to trying these ideas and can't wait to see how I do! :) I'll be taking a small digital camera in addition to the Canon Rebel, so maybe I could at least have some backup pictures in case the others don't turn out. :wink:

Thanks again! :)

Posted: Fri Sep 28, 2007 11:58 am
by Andy
Sarah: Here's another thought with your digital camera. Use it to take a shot to get the exposure. You can look at the shot on the LCD screen (though you have to be careful because these screens often make the result look different on screen). That will at least give you an idea if your exposure is correct before you start burning film. Film photographers used sometimes used this technique with a polaroid camera, to get an idea of the end result. You probably won't be able to do the slow shutter speed with the P&S, but its just math and the f-stops and shutter speed have a direct relationship at each increment. E.g., if the exposure looks good at 1/60 sec at f8, then you should get the same exposure at 1/30 at f/11 or 1/15 at f/16.