Waterfalls hold a special fascination, especially for photographers. Last December, I wrote about water and its many possibilities as a photographic subject or enhancement. While waterfalls can provide background interest and occasionally wonderful effects, a photographer can find it very rewarding to seek them out as a subject in and of themselves. Waterfalls can depict power, tranquility, or ironically—sometimes even both at the same time. With the appropriate photographic technique, the same waterfall can be portrayed to show either. They can enhance the color and texture of the substrate over which they flow. Waterfalls often demonstrate the sheer persistence of nature through years and years of inexorable flow to create canyons and ravines in bedrock.
The same waterfall can be portrayed by the photographer to depict either power or tranquility.
Falls can be very large or very small and still hold fascination for the viewer and great fodder for the photographer.
Perhaps more than any other subject, waterfalls present opportunities for the creative photographer to use the tools at his disposal for creative effect.
Those who know me or have read this blog know my mantra: “get close” and my fascination with the more intimate view of subjects. Waterfalls are often a great subject to get in close and shoot parts of, to show the effects of the water, and for abstracts of shape and color. I can sit at a waterfall for hours and watch as the water flows and see the while it may look the “same” to the casual observer, the flow of the water is never precisely the same.
Waterfalls are a great subject to get in close and make “intimate” images.
Perspective and context are often an element which is necessary if the photographer wants the viewer to know the size of the falls. It is often difficult, especially with an intimate view, for the viewer to know whether the falls are large or small.
Waterfalls are one of the most difficult subjects for a photographer to technically expose properly. There is generally very high contrast between the almost pure white water at its most rapid movement and the shadows often naturally created by the surroundings. Lighting conditions are often difficult. Waterfalls may be photographed on overcast days, and even in the rain, but care must be taken care in selecting any background elements. It is often difficult to properly expose a waterfall on a bright sunny day with blue skies in the background. Blending techniques have allowed us to do more in “digital darkroom” programs more easily that might have been possible with film.
The photographer needs to plan the shooting of a waterfall. This—like most successful nature photography opportunities—means being willing to be up very early and/or out late. An irony to this is that in many great waterfall shots the waterfall is in a difficult to get to place, which requires a hike in and out. By its nature, waterfall means elevation. So plan to hike uphill and down (often the hike can be a rather strenuous climb).
Spending time at a waterfall can be rewarding photographically and for the soul
Of the photographic experiences I remember in recent years, the ones that come back to me as most personally moving, and as a time and place for the contemplation of nature and her majesty, are the times (especially early morning) I have spent around waterfalls. Making the time to plan and arrive at these destinations and then spending some time while there can be a very rewarding experience for the photographer, both for the images and for the soul.