Bluefin Studios | Tutorial - Long Exposure and Waterfalls

Tutorial - Long Exposure and Waterfalls

January 03, 2014  •  1 Comment

Long Exposure and Photographing Waterfalls

Tips to Get Started!

Winter WaterfallWinter WaterfallBeaver Brook, long exposure, in winter. Belmont's Beaver Brook, at the falls, below the McClean Hospital Grounds, during a crisp winter day. #waterfallwednesday #inmotionthursday #flowingwaterfriday © All Rights Reserved, Greg Poulos, Bluefin Studios.

Upper Beaver Brook, Belmont MA. Long Exposure (Click for Photo)

Some Tips and Tricks For Waterfalls

There's nothing like the sense of motion and the beauty of taking long exposure photographs of waterfalls. The silky white water, the motion, the ethereal feeling, all bring the viewer into the image. Here are a few tips to help you make the image all that you want it to be!


First, Long Exposure means setting your shutter speeds to lengths that make it impossible for most people to create, handheld. That means, a good, sturdy tripod. Spend some money, and make sure it is stable. You don't want wind to vibrate your camera and tripod. Those cheap lightweight tripods are great for some images, and for really long hikes, but a good sturdy (sometimes heavy!) Tripod is a must.

Good Light 

Good light means just that. Sometimes it means getting up really early to catch the first light of the day. Sometimes it means being there, at your waterfall when it's sunset. And sometimes it means being there when it's cloudy. For me, I like a soft, even light. Cloudy days are not a wasted shooting day! Cloudy days means a big giant softbox to create images. Only you can tell what Good Light means. Base it on what you want your image to say, and what you want people to feel when seeing your images.

Time It Right

There are seasons to waterfalls. Early winter and late fall can mean less water flow. Early Spring/Late winter means more snow melt and more runoff. Right after a hard three day rain can mean more flow, more mud and silt, and more color. Again, what are you trying to convey? Is it the spring greens? Mossy rocks, water and lush color? Is it cold, ice, and snow, and flowing cold water? Do you want people enjoying a cool dip in the spring? Or do you need to get up early and avoid the rest of the people?

Time your shoots with the weather and the climate in mind. Perhaps shooting the same scene over the course of a year might be an interesting exercise! Vary the time of day as well.


Technically, Exposure, that is, Shutter Speed, is the most important tool in Long Exposure Photography. (Seems a bit obvious, eh?) Learn how to control and change your camera's settings. Understand the relationship between Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. For most of my Long Exposure Images, I shoot Shutter Priority (P on Nikon). I set the ISO usually, to 100 ISO. Not married to 100, as sometimes, in order to get the right exposure and Aperture, you may need to bump it up to 400, 800 or even 1600. Aperture can be controlled by the computer in your camera or you can manually set it f5.6, f8 or f11 depending on how much Depth Of Field (How much of the image is in focus) you are going for.  

Shorter Exposure FallShorter Exposure 1/100 sec. Aperture f5.6Shorter Exposure 1/100 sec. Aperture f5.6 Long Exposure FallLong Exposure FallLong Exposure 1 Second Aperture f32
On the Left, Image Aperture is f5.6, with 1/100 Second Exposure.  

On the Right, Image Aperture is f32 with 1 Second Exposure.  

Click For Photo 

Note that the water is almost stopped with the left image, while the right image is smooth and silky. It gives the appearance and feeling of motion to the water. Take a quick look at the image at the top of the blog post. This image was shot at Aperture f22, with a 3 Second Exposure. On the winter waterfall image at the top, I used a Neutral Density Filter to stop down the light a couple more shots. 

One last note!

Bring towels, to blot dry your lens, and camera. BLOT, don't wipe. Don't force water spray into the lens. Bring a plastic bag to keep extra memory cards. Keep your gear in your water resistant backpack until needed. Be real careful when walking on rocks near waterfalls. The last thing you want is to slip and damage your camera. Remember, you can always get a doctor to fix a broken leg, or arm, but always treat your camera right! 


More Tutorials

Exposure Triangle:

Aperture Tutorial:



James Wright(non-registered)
Very cool. Thanks, Greg.
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