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Waterfall Photography

You see them in books, calendars and magazines.  Endlessly flowing, taking a curious route.  Sometimes fast and powerful, sometimes slow, lazy and quiet.  We are fascinated by these creations of Mother Nature.  Sometimes it is possible to just sit, watch and listen.   Walk around and explore.  

Then come back with a camera to bring that feeling home.  This page will help you bring that feeling home just the way you remember it.

Finding waterfalls including the best places in the U.S.A. to find them

If you want to know how to get to any of the waterfalls that I have shot just e-mail me at: ken@kgcphoto.com and I might tell you...

Many waterfalls are easy to find just along the side of the road.  Some are within 5-10 minutes from where you parked.  Some waterfalls you have to hike 2 or 3 hours to get to them.  

For location information the best resource are the Delorme Atlas & Gazetteers which show the best detail.  They show everything from trails to campsites.  They sometimes have a list at the front of the atlas which lists the waterfalls and the pages where you can find them.  If you have a GPS receiver (which I have) then you would want to buy the gazetteers with GPS grids.  That way if you get lost just consult your GPS and find it on the map.

One of the best places to find waterfalls is in the upper peninsula of Michigan.  There are probably over 200 waterfalls in this area.  Most of them have maintained trails for easy access.  Notable falls include Bond and Agate Falls, the falls around Munising and Tahquamenon Falls.  Western Upper Michigan also has a good selection of waterfalls.  A good resource for these Upper Michigan waterfalls is "A Guide to 199 Waterfalls in Michigan".

Another great area for waterfalls is the Pacific Northwest.  The roads to and from Mount Rainier National Park are teeming with falls.  The only problem is the lack of turnouts to safely park to shoot these falls along the road. 

There are many more areas with waterfalls.  I just haven't gotten to them yet...

Equipment and film


A tripod is a must.  The one I use is a Gitzo G1325 topped with an Arca-Swiss B-1 head.  I chose this because it is very light weight and can go from 8 inches to about 6 feet including my camera.  This tripod is pricey though at over $600.  Bogen makes some nice tripods like the 3221 series and the 3401 series.  

A tripod also helps you look at a scene more carefully.  Examine every inch of the frame to make sure you get no surprises when the film comes back.  You most likely will not be shooting with your lens wide open but will have it stopped down to get some depth-of-field, which in turn will slow your shutter speed down.  


Any camera with manual controls is needed to shoot waterfalls.  Although you could use fully automatic, you wouldn't be controlling your depth-of-field and shutter speed.  Most of my waterfall photography is done with either my Shen-Hao 4x5 large format or my Pentax 645NII medium format cameras though any system with a good selection of lenses will do.


I've used everything from a 24mm to a 200mm when shooting waterfalls when I shot 35mm.  The 24 will get pretty much everything in and the 200 will allow me to zero in on the details or crop out some distracting elements.  The equipment that I use includes the Canon TS-E 24L which has the capability to tilt the plane of depth-of-field and rise/fall to maintain vertical lines (keeping trees straight).   Next is my 28-135 IS which can be used for almost everything else except when I zero in on details with my 200 2.8L.


For film, I use Fuji Provia 100F.  I also use Fuji Velvia which is a slower iso 50 speed film.  Most of the time I will be using Provia F.  When it is really dreary out I turn to Velvia for extra color saturation.  These are both fine grained and sharp films.  Watch out for blue in the shadows or in early mornings though. 

Best times to shoot waterfalls

Just like with almost any other photography the best times to shoot are at or around sunrise or sunset.  An exception is when the falls are in a canyon shaded from the sun.  Then you can shoot later in the day.  Another good time to shoot waterfalls is on overcast days when the light is softer.  Rainy or drizzly days can improve color saturation.

These times are the best because when the sun hits any part of the falls they become too contrasty to the point that most films can not handle it.  The rocks stay dark and the white water gets blown out to the point where it is a featureless white blob.  Also, I've never seen a really good midday shot of a waterfall.

Shutter speeds


This depends on your taste.  Some like really long shutter speeds of 1-2 seconds or more which make the water extremely soft or ethereal.  Others seem to like the 1/15-1/2 range which depending on the speed of the water gives it some texture yet still blurring it some.  Almost all of my waterfall images fall in to these two categories.  Some times you have to take what the light will give you if you need depth-of-field.  Stopping down to f/16 or f/22 could mean having no choice but to shoot at 2-5 seconds unless you went with a faster film which probably isn't a good idea as you will get more grain.


Completely freezing the water with shutter speeds in the 1/500-1/2000 range also have a neat effect but to me seems less appealing.


Should you shoot horizontal or vertical.  That depends on the waterfall you're shooting.  Is it tall and narrow.  If it is then most likely a vertical shot will work.  Try and include some foreground if you can to create more interest.  

If it is a short and wide waterfall, horizontal framing may be necessary.  Again, I like to include something in the foreground to give the waterfall a sense of size or place.

How about zooming in on the falls intimate features.  Sometimes more interesting things can be found if you look closer.