How to blur a waterfall

Waterfalls are tricky things to photograph.  We see the movement of the water with our eyes, but unless we take extra steps to adjust the camera it will freeze the water in place and produce a less than graceful shot.

As always, shutter speed controls the movement captured in a photograph.  A fast shutter speed will freeze the movement while a slow shutter speed shows a blur.  The slower the shutter, the longer the blur.  This can be fun to play with, especially at night – you can slow the shutter enough that people walking in front of your camera won’t even register. 

For most people, a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second is the slowest speed you can expect from a handheld camera.  Anything lower will produce blurry pictures from wobbling hands and the need to breathe.  Your best bet is a tripod to stabilize the camera, but sometimes you’ll be without a tripod and still want to capture movement.  In that case, find a way to stabilize the camera by propping it against something or setting it on a surface.  

This photograph was captured by steadying the camera against a fence, trying not to breathe, and taking multiple shots to ensure I got at least one.  Don’t assume your first shot is good enough – digital LCD screens may be too small to show minor blur. 

The biggest problem I ran into when trying to get this shot was the sun.  It’s difficult to slow the shutter and correctly expose the image when the sun is shining because my lens (50mm f1.8-f22 range) simply couldn’t compensate even at the smallest aperture.  I ended up using a filter to give the camera more exposure room.  This image was shot at 1.3 seconds shutter speed, f/22, 100 ISO, and a polarizing filter.

Waterfall basics:

  • Bring a tripod if you can
  • Find a great spot and shoot vertically if possible
  • Hope the sun isn’t out or bring a polarizer
  • Start at 1/30th of a second.  Go as low as you can and still correctly expose the image

4 thoughts on “How to blur a waterfall

  1. This is a beautiful photo. Great pointers, too. I love photographing waterfalls. There are several in my area and I hope to get some good photos of them all. Even though I’m just using an older model point and shoot Kodak digital camera, I’m always amazed when I get some decent shots with it. I would love to upgrade to a better camera; but with so many choices, I don’t even know where to begin.

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