Photographing waterfalls with minimal/basic gears

Want to shoot waterfalls with  a greeting card effect ? Well here are  the few things I want to share which I  learnt while chasing  the waterfalls.

Apsaraonda Falls, Honnavar

September ,  October and November are  perfect months  for waterfall photography in Karnataka. The Monsoons are just getting over and they are leaving huge amount of water that rundown and reach the sea!

Maneer falls, Kumta, KA| shot with Canon Powershot Pro1 ( a classic prosumer camera)

Gears : Basic  DSLR camera , prosumer cameras like Canon SXIS, Nikon Coolpix  or Powershot series or any camera with aperture control, Tripod ( optional) , A CPL filter( if you have a DSLR) , ND filter ( optional) , shutter release ( optional)

Best time to capture: A good cloudy day, before 10AM and after 3PM. You can take photos between 10-3pm but I don’t really encourage that.

Where to go: You need not visit the  highest or largest waterfall  in the world where you will be accompanied by thousands of tourists . Also you will end up taking same photos that everybody is taking! What you need is quite   stream running  down the hill. If you are ready  to go anywhere in Karnataka just for waterfall photography I can suggest you millions of places!

Hogenkkal falls, Tamilnaadu, overshot from this angle and always boring! You do not need a DSLR to capture like this. A cellphone can capture this.
Classic waterfall composition, but still enjoyable , 5sec exposed

Camera settings:

  1.  Generally for waterfalls you will get lots of time. So you can think and compose intelligently. I will simply go to aperture mode, dial f8 , keep ISO 100 and check what is the shutter speed  camera is  exposing to. If the shutter speed is slow enough to make the waterfalls blur then I am good with f8.

check these images ( you can click to view it bit larger). Slower you get more blur on water you get.

slow shutter speeds make the water silky! ( numbers are in sec)

So you know what you need now right? But keep in mind do not go beyond F22. Try to stay below f16.

For me the best slowest  shutter speed  starts from 1 sec. Slower I  get nicer the pics come.


Ok, camera settings are good. Now what ? Composing. Wander a little bit around the waterfalls . Make a mental note of camera  positions. Make sure you can keep your tripod firmly.  I told you will have enough time. Think and compose wisely. Mount your camera  on tripod ,  if you  have a shutter release use it  or you can put the timer on ( 2 sec preferable  unless you are shooting yourself in the waterfalls 🙂  ) and shoot. If your camera is focus hunting  you can use the manual focus.

If the   waterfalls you are visiting  is famous and many people keep visiting them I would do an image search over internet  and  try  to  understand the geography. Also I would do a small homework how to take  a different shot at this place.

Meenmutti falls, Waynad, if not an interesting crop and a unique processing this image would have been another waterfalls! f14,1/20 sec, exp -.7 step
Jog falls, KA , framed bit tight and then processed for black and white!

If you are exploring a waterfalls then it is total fun. You are the master as you are going to create the first photos so first impression!

I always prefer the second option but I don’t want to miss the famous waterfalls as well!

Captured while exploring! Maneer, Kumta, KA , ISO100, 2 sec, f13

What I learnt:

  1. Take a regular shot that everybody has taken first.
  2. Think something different. Take a shot that nobody has produced. Including some objects in the frame make very interesting unique photograph

    some stream, Waynad, Kerala, f14, ISO100, 1/3 sec
  3. Try to add some scale to the waterfalls. You can do this by adding a small human element or some object whose we are familiar with. ( remember if you add scale to a small stream then it will look funny
Some moments are very beautiful ! Hydlumane waterfalls, Kodachandri, KA
  1. Try different focal lengths. Sometime a flat image creates more depth .
some stream in Maneer, Kumta, KA, f14, ISO100, 8 sec
  1. Beware of spoiler objects. There might be dead tree branches, plastics ,cloths etc. So before even starting clean up the waterfalls instead of doing in post processing software . It is a good service to the nature as well .But some time dead tree branches can be sued for composition!
  2. Try to include colors. Very difficult in our region as we have only one color that is green but see if you get some colorfull rocks !! or May be some flowers and sky! !

    Rambara, Uttarakhand, f9, ISO400,1/125 sec,
  3. Try black and whites. You can make a great black and white photos from waterfalls.

    Gupthakashi, Uttarakhand, f16, ISO100, 1.6 sec
  4. Make a good use of light. Faster shutter speeds along with a good light will make pretty interesting waterfalls shots.
  5. Try some interesting angles/ perspectives . Result will be amazing!

    Kedarnath, Uttarakhand,ISO100, f7.1, 1/40 sec
  6. Do not hesitate to take man-made waterfalls, they might be interesting too!

    some man-made steps in Bababudangiri, KA, f22, 1/6 sec, ISO100

Use of CPL

A circular Polarizing  filter ( CPL)  is very useful when shooting a waterfalls. CPL removes the glare created by the light. Check these images to find out the differences. To know  the science behind it check this link.

See the difference yourself! CPL makes a huge difference!

But be sure you are rotating the CPL to  get it in the correct position.  If the front element of the lens rotating  then for every focus you need to rotate your CPL to get it right position.  If your  front lens element is fixed type then you have to rotate only when you switch between landscape to portrait.

If no  tripod

You can place your camera on something like a bag or a thick cloth. But you have to struggle a little to get the framing right. But still you can shoot it!

Common mistakes which I done many times  :

  1. Leaving  IS ( Image stabilization ) on when mounted on tripod
  2. Not setting the horizon properly ( believe  I still do this mistake often )
  3. Forgetting to out your camera neck strap around your neck. : Never ever forget! You don’t want to give you’re a camera a good mountain water wash!
  4. Don’t  forget where you are while shooting : Don’t be too brave, I don’t want  my readers or anybody fall and drown   in a waterfalls while photographing !  ( ok , I have not done this ever)
  5. While camera is shooting you doing your funny acts  like running  around or chatting with friends etc. Be watchful  and  keep thinking   about the next composition.
  6. Just taking one shot of the waterfall  and coming back : never do it. I will do minimum 10  composition if I get to see a waterfalls! And a safety shot, few same shots with different settings !

In other words don’t finish your shoot with slow shutter speeds. Try fast shutter speeds as well. Based on the light available you might get amazing results!

Hogenakkal, Tamilnaadu 1/1500 sec, ISO400,f9. Faster shutter speed on a daylight turned those water in to jewels!

7.     Forgetting that timer is on( if you are not using shutter release)  : Don’t forget as a tiger may jump in to the falls and you try to capture it waiting for camera to click!!  🙂

8.     Do not leave your stuff.

9.     Always keep an umbrella and some plastic covers  with you if you are out in a rainy day( do I need to write this here ?)

10.   Be careful about snakes, leeches, spiders etc.

11.    Don’t pollute  the nature  instead clean it. It is a great service to nature. Clean a waterfalls even if it is not so photogenic!

12.   See below in detail!

13.   See below in detail!

POINT No 12: Enjoy

Nature has given so much to us. Look at the waterfalls , so beautiful, so peaceful ! Sit there and relax, spend some time forgetting the camera. Jump in to it enjoy the fresh water.

Enjoy nature's gift!

Point no 13:

Ok, this will push you down from the ride. I have this stream in my native place that I often visit during monsoon. Every time I visit my ideas are improved, conditions are different and I take always different shots. I shot  some photos for the  stock agency and I enjoyed  as I told in the Point no 11. Then I moved further and shot many photos and again enjoyed. Then I went further following the stream suddenly I shocked to see a DEAD MONKEY IN THE STREAM!! YEEEEEYKS!

Do you really need exif ?!! click if you need to see it large!

luckily I was all alone and nobody had chance to see my face at that time. But hope you got the message.

If anybody found  any of the  information is  not correct anywhere please comment or email me so that I can correct it or modify it.


22 thoughts on “Photographing waterfalls with minimal/basic gears

  1. Very useful information Dinesh…. thanks for sharing your experience…. great to see the beautiful shots too…. minor spelling errors at few places which you may want to correct…..
    Thanks again…

    1. thanks a lot Rahul, glad you liked them. I will check the spellings where I missed it! I have 5-6 posts in line wanted to finish this ASAP and here I am making the same mistakes again!! 🙂

  2. Great article….I love photography…I am having a Nikon D3100 with 18-55mm lens….With this can i take such waterfall photographs?my mail

  3. all these things are not possible without a DSLR right?? i mean what can i execute with my aim and shoot camera?

    1. Kiran, minimum you need prosumer camera where you can control your exposure, but check your camera have a fireworks mode . that will work with waterfalls. but keeping tripod is a must

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