The Making of 5 Waterfall Images

Long exposures give photographers the ability to create an alternate reality. This is perhaps most prominent in waterfall photography. That beautiful appearance of silky water is typically captured with a slow shutter speed. This can be anywhere between one second, and 1/60th of a second. The exact settings will vary based on a number of factors. To help explain all of these variables, this article will detail how I made my favorite five waterfall images.

1) Upper Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, CA

Yosemite National Park is a magical location, drawing over four million visitors annually. At night, it's much quieter, providing a terrific opportunity to experiment with very long exposures. On this particular night, a bright full moon illuminated the valley, including Upper Yosemite Falls. To capture the falls, the mountain, and the stars above, I opted for a 17mm wide angle lens. Even with the light of the moon, it was necessary to use a 15" (fifteen second) exposure. To keep everything sharp, the camera was mounted on a tripod.  Camera settings: 15”, f4, ISO 400

2) Adams Falls, Rickett's Glen State Park, PA

The signs at the trailhead of Rickett's Glen State Park warn hikers of slippery rocks, potential injury, and even death. While unsettling, I was willing to take my chances for a great photograph. That led me to Adam's Falls, one of the tallest of the park's twenty plus waterfalls. To emphasize its height and power, I opted for a vertical composition. Something as simple as turning the camera to it's side can make all the difference. Camera settings: 0.7”, f22, ISO 100

3) Silver Falls, Townsend, TN

While it's true that no two waterfalls are alike, Silver Falls took this to the extreme. It's found in the depths of the Tuckaleechee Caverns, far beneath the earth's surface. With little natural light and a few safety bulbs to lead the way, I knew it would be a difficult exposure. Further complicating matters was the security guard who wouldn't allow me to bring the tripod. Luckily, there was a metal safety rail that worked as a makeshift camera support. At 1/15th of a second, it was the slowest I ever attempted to hand hold a camera. The rail proved effective though, and I managed one or two sharp photos of the unique site. Camera settings: 0.4”, f5.6, ISO 800.

4) Abrams Falls, Great Smoky Mountains, TN

In the Great Smoky Mountains, weather can change in an instant. This can sometimes work in a photographer's favor. This popular waterfall is usually cluttered with tourists. Yet, as a heavy downpour soaked the area, the park quickly emptied. Waiting in my car, I checked the weather radar app. It showed a fast moving system that would clear in approximately 30 minutes. The moment it passed, I hiked to the waterfall and made this shot. Camera settings: 1/25, f7.1, ISO 100

5) Hawk Falls, Hickory Run State Park, PA

Overcast days are ideal for waterfall photography. The clouds work as a natural softbox, providing soft, even light. This is far more pleasing than a scene that's dappled with sun and shade. With a little bit of planning you can increase your chances of success. I try to arrange my waterfall shoots on a partly cloudy day, or very early in the morning when the sun is still low in the sky. Camera settings: 1/10, f22, ISO 10