Have you ever tried to photograph waterfalls and been disappointed with the results? Do you want to know how to capture that silky-smooth look on the water with your camera? You’ve come to the right place because we have plenty of useful, (yet simple) waterfall photography tips for you to try out.

1.  Capture Motion with a Slow Shutter Speed

long exposure waterfall
© Lin and Jirsa Photography

The first of our waterfall photography tips focuses on shutter speed. Because each waterfall is different, and the lighting around it is different, there is no “one-size-fits-all” shutter speed. If you want to capture the movement of the water, then you will need to use a slow shutter speed – usually anything from 1/30th second right up to several seconds – depending on the natural light around the waterfall and how fast the water is flowing.

Try starting with a 1-second shutter speed, and review your image on the camera. If the water isn’t silky-looking enough for your creative vision, then try 1.5 seconds, then 2 seconds, and so on until you get the water looking how you want.

You will need a good, sturdy tripod to shoot at such low shutter speeds, as it will hold the camera steady while the shutter is open. Don’t worry if your image looks overexposed at this point, as the next one of our waterfall photography tips looks at fixing that problem.

2. Get the Correct Exposure

waterfall exposure
© Lin and Jirsa Photography

Because your slow shutter speeds let more light into the camera for a longer period, it can overexpose the rest of your photo, especially if you’re shooting in sunlight.

Follow these general rules of thumb:

  • As mentioned in the previous tip, start with a shutter speed of 1 second and adjust up and down to get the amount of motion blur in the water that you’re going for.
  • Bring your ISO down as low as it will go to reduce the camera sensitivity to light and to maximize the image quality. 
  • Then adjust your aperture accordingly to get to your desired exposure.  In the day time, you’ll likely be close to your lens’ maximum aperture (usually from f/16 to f/32).  In darker scenes, you’ll likely be around f/8; and at night, you’ll might be wide open. 

For more information, we recommend you brush up on your exposure triangle.

You may find that these steps just aren’t enough to correct any overexposure, but don’t worry as our next waterfall photography tip is on using lens filters to reduce exposure even more.

3. Use Lens Filters

nd filter for shutter drag

Filters are made of different strengths of dark glass that are circular and screw on the filter thread at the front of the lens, or are rectangular and go into a special holder so that they cover the front of the lens.  High quality ND (Neutral Density) filters are very useful for landscape and nature photographers, as they reduce the amount of light coming into the camera without changing the colors in the image. You can also use a polarizing filter that cuts down the light and also reduces reflections from water and rocks etc. while increasing the saturation to give your image a more vivid look.

4. Pick the Right Time of Day to Shoot

waterfall photography tutorial
© Lin and Jirsa Photography

The next in our series of essential waterfall photography tips is to pick the right time of day to shoot. Bright, midday sun can make it very difficult to get the correct exposure, so the best idea is to shoot in an hour or so after sunrise, or the hour before sunset if you can.

Shooting at these times of the day or in overcast weather will give you a much better chance of getting even exposure without annoying sun reflections in the water.

5. Change Your Composition – Shoot in Landscape

panorama waterfall
© Lin and Jirsa Photography

Have you ever noticed how most folks shoot waterfalls in portrait orientation? It does make sense because waterfalls are usually thin and long, but you can get some stunning landscape orientation shots of waterfalls that stand out from the crowd. Shooting this way will probably seem strange at first but it does push you out of your comfort zone and makes you more creative.

Photographer using the Syrp Genie II

6. Protect Your Kit, and Yourself

photographers waterfallsPhoto by Lucas Allmann from Pexels

Probably the most overlooked advice when it comes to waterfall photography tips is the importance of preparing your kit and wearing the right clothes. Even small waterfalls can produce spray or splashes that can hit your lens, so it makes sense to bring lots of lens cloths to dry your lens and filters and to have a waterproof camera bag.

You should wear waterproofs and boots with a decent sole that are capable of gripping on slippery wet rocks, and an umbrella is also an option for using between shots, but you may find it too cumbersome.

7. Visit in Different Seasons

winter waterfallsPhoto by Trevor Cole on Unsplash

The final one of our waterfall photography tips is to visit the same waterfall in different seasons, as they take on a diverse range of looks according to the time of year you visit. If you’re lucky, the waterfall may even freeze solid in winter, giving a stunning display of icicles.


Waterfalls open up a world of creativity for landscape photographers.  Whether you’re a beginner just starting out or an advanced seasoned pro, the most important tip we can give you is to just get out there and shoot!  The photos are almost always worth the early mornings, long hikes, and challenging environments!  What other tips do you have for photographing waterfalls? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!