Photography Tip - be careful using slow shutter for waterfalls in daylight

A waterfall in Japan I photographed a decade ago, long before my skills were competent....this was a 0.8 sec shutter speedA photography student recently asked me about photographing waterfalls and specifically about getting that soft cotton look to the water.  Well, to do that, it is rather easy, if you have the right gear and conditions, otherwise it is rather tricky.

The ideal gear to have would be:

  • tripod
  • neutral density filter
  • cable release

Obviously of course you need a DSLR too with an appropriate lens to frame the waterfall.  So if you can mount your camera on a tripod, attach a neutral density filter to the lens, then use the cable release to eliminate camera shake, all is good.  What if you do not have all of that?

The same waterfall with 0.6 sec shutter speedThese photographs were made when I did not really know what I was doing back in November of 2004.  I had a pretty good digital camera that had manual exposure abilities, but I did not understand aperture properly as these shots were all like at f/3.5!  Should have been f/11.  At least I had a tripod.  If you do not have a tripod, then there is no chance as no one can hold a camera for 0.6 seconds steady.  So you at least need a tripod.  If no cable release, then you can use the self-timer to have your hands off the camera as the shutter opens.  

The problem with shooting long exposures during the day is that it is very easy to overexpose the shot.  Very easy.  So the waterfall shots here do not look as good as they could because I could only get away with a 0.8 sec shutter speed.  Of course if I had used f/11, then I could have used a much slower shutter speed.  Either way, if I had a neutral density filter, essentially a very strong pair of sunglasses for your lens, then I could have left the shutter open for nearly as long as I wanted to get the ideal look to the waterfall without overexposing the rest of the shot at all.  So if you find that you like making these kinds of waterfall shots, and long exposures in general, do yourself a favor and get a good tripod, a cable release, and a good neutral density filter.  

Yours truly circa November 2004...whoops, missed the focus due to using too large of an aperture, something I would never do now.I took the time to even make a self-portrait.  I initially thought I back focused and because of using such a large aperture, I was out of focus, but I now realize it might have just been because I moved some during the 2 seconds the shutter was open!!  If you can believe it, I still wear that same hat everytime I go hiking and now trekking here in Florida.  I actually wore that shirt just last week too!  The photo was from November 2004 in a forested mountainside in Japan.

Architecture & Exposure DSLR Photography Lesson St. Petersburg Florida with Rebecca

The Waterfall at Signature Place Tower in downtown St. Petersburg - Rebecca with her Canon XSiFor our second of four 1-on-1 DSLR Photography Lessons I met Rebecca at the same spot in downtown St. Petersburg where we began by looking at some photographs she had taken since our first lesson with her Canon XSi.  Rebecca is following my most recommended path for anyone taking my 4-pack of lessons (or even a single lesson) by first taking a lot of notes during the content heavy first lesson, then shooting a lot between the first and second lessons.  This allowed me to see her progress and give very specific help to improve her shots.  In fact, we spent the entire second lesson practicing how to get a correct exposure given differing lighting (backlight, side light, etc) with a focus on architecture subject matter.

For this practice I had Rebecca start in Aperture priority mode (A, Nikon; Av, Canon) at f/11 which is recommended for our typical sunny Florida days.  Then depending on where the sun is relevant to the subject, we were able to find the limits of A-priority mode.  This is how I taught Rebecca to find the limit:  1.)  once the shutter speed goes below 1/60th, increase aperture  2.)  Once the aperture limit of f/5.6 is hit along with the 1/60th shutter speed limit, then increase ISO

When A-priority mode was choosing a shutter speed too fast even at f/11, then I had her switch to manual mode, staying at f/11 while manually setting a slower shutter speed and tweaking the latter to produce the desired balalnce between for example enough blueness in the sky, but also enough detail in the shadows of buildings.  

Using these real world skills for setting up a properly exposed shot, plus the architecture composition tips I passed on to her, I am sure Rebecca will be able to make some great shots when she visits New York City next week.

Free Desktop Calendar Wallpaper: Florida Fern Waterfall June 2010

Free desktop calendar wallpaper for June 2010 - Rainbow Springs fern waterfall

Jason Collin Photography is offering the image "Rainbow Springs Fern Waterfall" as a free* desktop wallpaper calendar. If you use it as your desktop wallpaper, please let me know in the comments.







This image was made yesterday on a Memorial Day day trip to beautiful Rainbow Springs near Ocala, Florida.  I had been wanting to make a "cotton candy" waterfall image for awhile, but lacked both the opportunity and the gear (stable tripod) until yesterday.    

* All desktop wallpapers are provided without any technical support.  All images are Copyright Jason Collin Photography, All Rights Reserved.  Removing the watermark by digital alteration or cropping is prohibited.  You are granted a single use, non-exclusive, perpetual license to install this wallpaper on any personal computer personally owned by you. This license grants you the right to use the wallpaper for non-commercial/personal use only. You may not re-sell, distribute, print or otherwise publish the image without the express written consent of the Copyright owner: Jason Collin Photography