Using Shutter Priority Mode to Photograph a Waterfall

Shooting a waterfall presents many options that can all be reached through shutter priority mode. The motion can be captured in different ways based on how you set your shutter speed.

Step 1: Choose a Time of Day

Waterfalls are usually nestled into a piece of the world with inconsistent lighting conditions. Once you have chosen a waterfall, you must then choose a good time of day to visit it with your camera. Observe the location's surroundings and try to determine when the sun will break through the trees and illuminate the waterfall. Water is reflective, so it will look best when the sun hits it just right. This is not usually at high noon, but when the angle of light is less harsh.

Step 2: Find a Camera Angle

Though you will probably want to take a variety of shots, there are some elements that can give the advantage to certain angles. Consider the angle of sunlight. If you can get an angle from which the water is back-lit, the cascade will pop crisply out of the background. In a front lit situation, the waterfall will photograph more diffusely. Decide what effect you want to capture and shoot from that angle. As will be explained in the next steps, using a tripod is critical for this process.

Step 3: Freeze the Water

Capturing the essence of water can take two routes. The first option is to freeze the water in your frame and record a mere millisecond of time. Set your camera to shutter priority mode and then adjust your shutter speed to the fastest setting. At 1/1000th of a second, you will get an image in which you can see all the details of the water's texture. After taking the wide shots, consider moving in for some closer details. This type of image will be most benefited by back lighting so that each drop can be seen clearly.

Step 4: Blur the Water

The second photographic choice would be to allow the waterfall to blur the frame as it passes through your exposure. This is when the tripod becomes extremely important. You will need to set your shutter speed to something around 1-2 seconds. The result will be that the waterfall appears more like a soft curtain draping itself through your frame. Exposure can end up being a problem for this kind of shot. In bright sunshine with such a long exposure time, you may not be able to close down your aperture enough to keep the image from being overexposed. Carry some ND filters with you to knock down the sensitivity. Alternately, you can switch over to aperture priority mode and close the lens down as far as it will go. Your camera will then compensate by using a relatively long exposure time. It may not be as long as you would like, but at least the image will be exposed.

Waterfalls make for excellent subject matter in photography. Shutter priority mode is an useful way to approach this project, but other elements will also play an important part in your results.

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