Weekly Photo Challenge: Falling Water

I’m out photographing waterfalls this week. Spring’s been wet and that, in my area, leads to waterfalls. I’m out in Shawnee National Forest hiking up and down trails to find these elusive waterfalls. By which I actually mean hiking down and then UP trails – it’s the nature of waterfalls that they start “up there” and go “down there”. To photograph them, I generally have to be at the bottom. Sigh.

Jackson Falls Shawnee National Forest
An easy trail leads to the top of the falls, but to get to the bottom is another thing entirely!
Jackson Falls, Shawnee National Forest, Illinois

This week the challenge is to….

Photograph Falling Water

For this challenge, you don’t have to photograph waterfalls. Rain is technically “falling water” and there seems to be a lot of rain about.

Really try to capture the rain FALLING (rather than just photographing a rainy day or the ripples rain makes after it hits water). A couple of tricks: speed up your shutter speed and try to get in a position where the light is behind the drops.

This photo really shows what I’m talking about. For this portrait session, we stuck a speed light right behind the model to backlight the rain. My shutter speed is at 1/200 of a second.

Portrait in rain
Amy in the Rain. Shutterfest weather was off-and-on this year. Cold, wet, warm, dry, gray — you name it, we had it. Embrace the rain! Jeremy and I were the only ones out shooting in the rain.

Dripping water also makes for some lovely photos. Get in really close and isolate the droplet. You might even see yourself looking back! I have lots of macro photos of droplets of water, but it’s trickier to get them actually falling. I’ll have to work on this myself this week!

Macro water droplets on leaf
Nature Up-Close. Look closely at the morning dew on this bamboo shoot. Shaw Nature Reserve is reflecting back in the water droplets. 5.14.2017. Sony A7II 90mm 1/160@f9 ISO800

Even if you’re trying for a waterfall, you don’t have to think that big. Sure, I’m out looking for those big waterfalls in a National Forest, but even a sweet little 2-footer will do. Just zoom in close and we’ll never know it’s not 20-foot tall! One reason to put a person in the photograph is to show scale. This sweet little waterfall is barely from my knee to the ground, but unless I’m standing in the photo, you might never guess – or care.

Waterfall Pickle Springs Missouri
Despite the Mississippi River flooding, I had a hard time finding waterfalls in a local nature area. It’s all about how the water flows!
Pickle Spring, Missouri

I did quite a bit of research to find out what waterfalls were in the area. Take a look in your area. You might be surprised at the waterfalls available to you in parks or as part of an architectural design. I practiced taking pictures of waterfalls at our local botanical gardens.

Missouri Botanical Gardens Waterfall
Waterfall at the Missouri Botanical Gardens, St. Louis. Colors are just starting to change in the area. The photography club met at the botanical gardens to see the color.

A couple of tips about photographing waterfalls:

  1. Use your tripod! My husband bought me a tripod for my birthday when I was first into photography and I’m a bit lazy about carrying it around, but not this week! I’ve been packing it in everywhere I go. Waterfalls are lovely when they are photographed silky and smooth and for that you need a slow shutter speed – and for THAT you need a tripod.
  2. A long exposure is great for capturing waterfalls – it makes the water go all silky and smooth, but depending on how fast the water is moving, you may not need a really long exposure. The quick moving waterfalls I’ve been photographing at 1/4 second shutter speed. I can almost hand-hold the camera at this speed – why did I schlep my tripod down here! Play around with different speeds from 1″ to 1/4″. Slower shutter speeds will really blur the water, but there’s a point where the water is as smooth as it’s going to get. Completely smooth may not be best anyway – try leaving a little texture in the water.
  3. I’ve been hiking down into canyons where there’s not much light so it’s been easy to get a slow shutter speed for long exposures, but if you’re photographing in bright sun, you might need a neutral density filter to cut out some of the light or maybe try photographing the water just as the sun goes down.
  4. Find the shape of the water. Every fall has a unique shape to it and this shape often continues into whatever pool it’s falling into.

I’ve got a few tips for post-processing nature scenes. If you’re interested in taking your photography a step further, sign up for private coaching sessions on my website.

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31 thoughts on “Weekly Photo Challenge: Falling Water”

  1. Wonderful Water Images – I love water textures! Even when shooting say, waterfowl, I really enjoy capturing the textures, colours, reflections surrounding them. Here is one of my favourites –
    I have been meaning to do some serious waterfall capturing for quite some time now. I have an excellent tripod which I never use and even purchased a variable ND Filter. There are beautiful falls locally in southern British Columbia – so no excuse. I need to just take a full day and go do it.

    Liked by 1 person


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