Photo Tip Friday - Part 1: How to Take Pictures of Waterfalls & Water

by Mary Denman
Twitter: @MaryDenman
Instagram: MaryFDenman

Waterfall by Mary Denman

Today's tip is Part 1 of a 2 Part series to help you understand how to take pictures of waterfalls and water. While you may not have a waterfall that you frequent regularly, it's good to learn what to do so when it's time to take a shot, you're ready and get the photo you want! 

First of all, there are two main ways to take pictures of waterfalls. 
1) Take the photo at a fast enough speed to stop the action of the water. 
2) Take the photo at a long enough exposure to make the water look "milky" and smooth. 

These techniques are very different so I'll teach you both. 

Let's get started.

Mary Denman Photography
This shot is of a waterfall was taken in downtown Greenville, SC. There's an amazing pedestrian bridge spanning the falls that allows for great photos. This was taken after a torrential rainfall in the area. The water was truly raging. 

For this shot, I wanted to just stop the action and freeze the water in place. So, I changed my ISO to 800 which meant I could take the photo "quickly." The shutter was open for only 1/400 of a second. This is how our eye "sees" the waterfall. 

For the next shot, I wanted to make the water look milky and smooth. 

To accomplish this second technique, you MUST have a tripod OR a solid surface to use. 

Waterfall by Mary Denman Photography
I set my camera on the railing of the bridge to steady the picture. Then moved the ISO back down to 100 and changed the Aperture to f/22. 

Why? Because if I had left the Aperture at 4.5, it would have let a lot of light in and then the shutter would have had to use a fast time, like 1/250 of a sec, to keep it from being overexposed. But that would have stopped the action.

So I set it on f/22 to let less light in and then the timing was 1/8 of a second. You can't handhold that steady. Which is why you need a tripod or solid surface. 

Compare the difference in the two pictures above. Both are pretty, but different.

Mary Denman Photography
Here's another example. But this time, it shows that if you don't have a fast enough speed, the water can just look blurry instead of milky. For this shot, I set the ISO at 100 but had the Aperture at f/4.5 which lets in a good amount of light. However, it also meant I took the photo at 1/125 of a second. That wasn't fast enough to freeze the water or it wasn't slow enough to make it milky. 

Mary Denman Photography
It just looks like it's out of focus. But notice the rocks and plants beside it are quite clear. 

So I changed my settings. 

I left the ISO on 100 but turned my Aperture to f/22. Why? To not let as much light in so I could leave the shutter open longer without washing everything out. 

See how the water is now milky?

So the tips for this week are:

1) Decide if you want the picture to look as if it froze time and stops the action. If so, use a fast ISO like 800 or above. 

2) Decide if you want the water to look milky. If so, you must have a tripod or solid surface to set the camera on. 

I'm going to give you one caveat for what I've said today. Notice the sky was still cloudy and overcast? If you look at pictures of waterfalls that are milky, you will see the same thing. Cloudy skies for the most part. Why? Because lots of sunlight directly on the water makes milky shots very, very difficult to take. I'll go into more detail next week and how to compensate for it as well. 

Cell phone users: Here's a pictures I took the same day as above. With my cell phone camera. The digital technology available to us in our smart phones is amazing. Use it!! 

For Bloggers: Waterfalls are beautiful and powerful. Intriguing and dangerous. The day I took these photos, two policemen were stationed to make sure people kept out of the river. Writing about waterfalls could be about any aspect of their nature. Do waterfalls exhilarate you or scare you? Why?

Hope these tips help!

Keep on Clicking!


Tweetable: How Do You Take Photos of Waterfalls? (click here to tweet)


Say G'Day SaturdayAmanda’s Books and MoreMy Turn For UsThat Friday Blog Hop


  1. Waterfalls fascinate me. Such raw power! I love racing for the same reason. :)

    1. That's cool Sherry! Thanks for dropping by!

  2. Karen Campbell ProughSeptember 7, 2014 at 3:22 PM

    Oh, I think I love the milky shot the best. Thanks for the tip on how to do this. Standing beside a huge waterfall is deafening, and the vibration under your feet is a bit intimidating. But I enjoy it and the mist on my face, if I'm real close to it. In book two of a series I've finished, there is a waterfall scene.

    1. I have a waterfall scene in a book I've written. They can be really powerful! Literally and figuratively. Thanks for dropping by Karen!

  3. Great tips. I love waterfalls. There is one I can walk too within 30 minutes from my home.

    1. Rhonda, let me know when you post them! I would LOVE to see! Thanks for dropping by!

  4. Aren't they just lovely in person, but hard to capture in photos. Your tips are awesome!

    1. I've been that person, taking pictures and not being happy with them. So I love to share what I've learned!

  5. Beautiful waterfall pictures Mary, great tips :)

    Thanks for linking up #weekendbloghop