What Is It About Falling Water?

by Nick Jenkins October 14 2018

Ever since I picked up my first camera (a Zenit E bought for me by my parents) I have been fascinated by falling water - of the waterfall kind. Why? I am not really sure but maybe it was the frustration borne out of the fact that my eyes could only see the cascade in 'real time' and not as I wanted to see it - flowing over a rock.

It took me a little while to knit together all the ingredients I realised I needed to shoot waterfalls the way I wanted to. For sure there have been, and continue to be, photographers who see these flowing art creations and get quite exercised about them. "That's not a 'proper' photo" or "that's not natural and certainly not as I see them" etc.

Well, my take is this. The fact that a camera is capable of delivering to our settings and instructions is a great bonus - we can be creative! To me, this in no way makes the end result wrong, or manipulated, or worse yet cheating! It just means that we have a tool at our disposal that allows us to see what our eye/brain connection doesn't. Is that wrong?

Upper Scwd Ddwli Falls, Vale of Neath

(Nikon D800, 24-70mm lens at 26mm | 1/6th sec | f16 | ISO 320)

Oh, those ingredients. For me to be able to capture waterfalls flowing rather than crashing, I need the following:

  • A camera - to do the capture for us!
  • Lenses with a wide to narrow range - to allow all-embracing and close up detail images - to introduce a variety of composition.
  • Neutral density filters (a polariser or just low light work too, but the polariser also helps by eliminating/reducing and brightness on the river surface) - to slow down the water flow by simulating lower light.
  • A tripod - to keep everything rock steady over what might be seconds, even minutes.

Decent walking shoes and/or boots help too - given the locations of most waterfalls. Wellies too can help by getting you into the water, but do take care, rocks can be slippery!

Upper Scwd Ddwli Falls, Vale of Neath, Close Up

(Nikon D800, 70-200mm lens at 200mm | 1/13th sec | f16 | ISO 320)

I generally recce my waterfalls before getting the camera out to explore as many composition options as I can. When I am happy, out comes the gear. I generally shoot around f16-f32 depending on the light and what filters I opt to use. I now always shoot landscape and portrait format and edit back home.

Autumn is perhaps the best time of year - the foliage just adds another dimension to me. That said, the key ingredient is rain, so most of this 2018 summer was a total no-no.

I've included my favourite shots - locations are given along with settings, but, as I said earlier, all were tripod mounted, just to allow complete stillness whilst that exposure is ticking away.


West Burton Falls, Yorkshire Dales

(Nikon D800, 24-70mm lens at 32mm | 1 sec | f22 | ISO 100)

West Burton Falls, Yorkshire Dales

(Nikon D800, 24-70mm lens at 38mm | 1.6 sec | f22 | ISO 100)

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