Retro WON: How to Photograph Dreamy Waterfalls

It has been quite a few years since I have gone waterfall shooting up in the New Hampshire White Mountains. In fact last time, I was shooting them on black and white film! I decided it was time to bring some color in my life this year. I spent the entire month of October day-tripping to my favorite places. I went to a lot of waterfalls. The foliage was beautiful as always that time of year.


(Kathryn Dow photo)

These photos featured include Glen Ellis Falls, inside of Pinkham Notch Coos County, close to Gorham. The feature drop waterfall is approximately 80 feet and there are beautiful surrounding spots as well. Achieving this result requires a couple accessories, along with normal gear. A tripod and neutral density filter are must-haves! I used a Promaster digital ND8 filter for the front of my lens which is a 3-stop reduction. I would use at least this 3-stop reduction filter to reduce light so your photo doesn’t  wash out. A tripod will also be needed to stabilize you while you are shooting for a longer shutter speed to slow the water to give it that smooth, dreamy appearance. The reason for the filter is the slower shutter speed. Since you are letting the light hit your image for a longer period, it will reduce the light amount that hits it – therefore, giving you the desired amount of light and not “wash out” or “blow out.”

You will have to play with your shutter speed and aperture, depending on the lighting situation tips to remember if new to shooting manually:  Remember … shutter speed controls how long you let light hit an image and aperture controls how much light hits your image. The trick is getting them to sing together! You should start out if doing waterfalls at a F22 or F20 aperture and a shutter speed of 1.3 – 1.6 second exposures. If coming out too dark, try a 2-second exposure and then a 2.5-second exposure and try to  balance the light and effect. Or you could go the other way and let more light, such as with a F18, F16, or F14 aperture. Just remember … the slowing of the water effect is controlled by the shutter speed and the longer you can set your shutter speed – even up to a 3- or 4-second exposures – will give you a dreamier water effect.

The challenge is getting them to sing together, but that is what is great with digital. After you get the first shot check, then make adjustments that are needed. The large waterfall exposure I shot was at 28mm wide, 200iso, F14 Aperture, and 1-second shutter speed on tripod with a 3-stop reduction Full ND filter. The second shot was at 24mm wide, 200iso, F22 Aperture and a 1/3-second shutter speed.



(Kathryn Dow photo)

The beauty of waterfalls is that they look great in the winter, also. Or, get a remote-shutter-release cord to further reduce vibration. I didn’t have mine that day the one thing I forgot! I still made it work though.

Who doesn’t love waterfalls?

This Retro WON first appeared Dec 8, 2010. Contributed by photographer Kathryn Dow.

  • About The WON

    The Women's Outdoor News, aka The WON, features news, reviews and stories about women who are shooting, hunting, fishing and actively engaging in outdoor adventure. This publication is for women, by women.


The Conversation

  • gary folz says: April 9, 2012 at 10:27 am

    great infor. from a pro……will save this, for down the road. What a great area White mtn.thanks for pointer…Kathryn

  • Stacey Huston says: December 11, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Great tips Kathryn~ water is one of those things that I don’t photograph enough~ have to refer to the book every time to remember all the tricks~ Thanks for the inspiration… need to venture out again soon and refresh my memory ~ always fun to step outside of the box.. so to speak..