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Know the Mistakes when Photographing Waterfall

#1 Photographing Waterfalls on a sunny day

Sunny days in the forest may be nice for close-up studies, but adding sun to a waterfall landscape is not a good idea – the range of light and dark is so extreme that your compositions will be washed out or hidden in blackness. The best time to head out for a waterfall shoot is on an overcast day, with or without rain.

#2 Setting your camera to auto-select aperture and shutter speed

Metering is something that cameras generally do very well. They begin to fail, however, when you start to introduce very white or very black subjects in an image. The reason for this is because humans see in 16-stops, whereas cameras “see” no more than 5-stops. This means that images with high contrast are not correctly exposed when left to the camera’s automatic settings – if you have a lot of white in your subject of focus, the camera tends to make it grey in the final image, and correspondingly underexposes the rest of the image. Similarly, if you have a lot of black in your image, the camera tends to make the black turn out grey in the final image, thus overexposing the rest of the image.

#3 Shooting Waterfalls without a polarizing filter

In a nutshell, polarizing filters cut the glare. Wet surfaces tend to reflect the sky colour, so you’ll actually need the polarizing filter more for rainy days where the sky colour is grey than for sunny days. But we’ve already agreed you shouldn’t photography waterfalls on sunny days… Removing glare from an image allows you to see the colourful world underneath the glare, and no amount of Photoshopping after your shoot will fix it.

Tips to Correcting #1, #2, #3

The idea is to meter off the part of your composition that would be closest to medium grey, should the image be turned to greyscale. If your waterfall is surrounded by lush forest, try metering off nearby green leaves or grass – never off the waterfall, and never off anything in shade. If you’re photographing at dawn or dusk, meter off the sky. This will make the waterfall appear white, and the shady areas appear black. It’s really very simple!

In automatic mode :

First, learn how to “lock” your camera’s exposure so as to trick it into getting the right exposure. (Each camera is slightly different, so you’ll have to check your manual for more information.) Enable bracketing if you’ve got it. Point your camera at the green leaves or dusky sky, and lock your exposure. Re-focus your camera on the waterfall, and click the button – this should tell your camera to expose the scene how we see it, and not what its algorithms have told it to do.

In manual mode:

Set your exposure to -2/3 of a stop. Point your camera at a spot nearby the waterfall that is neither bright nor dark. Set your aperture and shutter speed to whatever you prefer (see Mistake #4). Now point your lens at the waterfall and frame the scene in your viewfinder. Click the button and voilè  Рbeautiful exposure!

#4 Leaving your waterfall site without trying to slow the water motion on camera

Let’s face it, it’s fun to try to make those ethereal shots of rapids or waterfalls where the movement of the water looks like silk. Why walk away from a waterfall if the conditions are right for taking such a shot?

Tips to Correcting #4

It’s very simple; here’s what you need to do:
– ensure the sky is overcast
– decrease your ISO setting to as low as possible
– consider enabled auto-bracketing on your camera, if you have it, or setting the exposure to -2/3 of a stop
– set your camera up on a tripod and frame your waterfall in the viewfinder
– lower your shutter speed to 1/15th of a second or less
– take a shot and check the histogram
– play with slower shutter speeds and different exposure bracketing