Monday, August 17, 2009

Instructor's Tip: Capturing Waterfalls

Photo by Russ Burden
I hope you enjoy this week's "Instructor's Tip" by one of my favorite instructors, award winning nature photographer Russ Burden. To learn more about how Russ captured the above image, join him on one of his photo tours. Visit Russ Burden Photography to get more information.

Capturing Waterfalls
Capturing great waterfall shots is not a difficult task. Keys to getting them are knowing what time of year to be there to get the best water flow, what time of day to photograph them, and deciding what shutter speed to use to either freeze the motion of the water or exaggerate its movement. Otherwise the same basic rules of good photography apply with regards to composition, handling the background, light, etc. Depending on the amount of spray it emits, you will need to bring an absorbent cloth to continuously wipe off your filter. This is especially true if you work close to the falling water. If you do, be especially careful of your footing as the mossy ground can be very slippery.

Although great waterfall shots can be made with a point and shoot, an SLR will benefit you tremendously as you can control the shutter speed dictating the look of the water. A slow shutter speed allows you to create a cotton candy effect giving the appearance of falling white lace rather than water. A fast shutter speed freezes the drops. The cotton candy effect conveys a tranquil feel while the frozen drop effect exudes power and strength. It’s a matter of personal taste as to which look you prefer although you’ll often find that the amount of light on the falls dictates the shutter speed. If there’s too much, you can add a neutral density filter to slow it down, but if there’s not enough and the goal is to shoot frozen drops, you’ll need to return when the light is more intense.

Other than an SLR, there are a few key pieces of equipment you’ll need to get good waterfall shots. A zoom lens will give lots of versatility with regards to composition. A tripod is a must to steady the camera when making long exposures. A polarizer is highly recommended as it will remove the glare from water covered rocks surrounding the falls. As you rotate it, you’ll be able to see the effect through the lens. The only drawback is the polarizer will eat up 1 1/2 stops of shutter speed so if the frozen drop effect is your goal, you may have to forego its use.

Take a class with Russ or a fellow Digital Photo Academy instructor in your area, check out the Digital Photo Academy. I took Russ' intermediate and advanced courses last year, and he continues to be a strong source of knowledge and encouragement as I progress in my photography.

Don't forget to check Take Great Pictures for Russ' most recent tips. On the home page, click on the "Photo Tips And Techniques" button in the left hand column. Additionally, check out his "Digital Tip of the Month" found by clicking on the Digital Photography button.

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