Photographing Waterfalls: A Snapshot from Somersby Falls

Waterfalls are a favourite subject of many photographers. This is because of the wide range of ways you can effectively capture the beauty of such a natural phenomenon.

You can capture the serenity and tranquility of a waterfall and stream, or the breath-taking power of the rushing water.

This handy waterfall photography tutorial will assist you in capturing stunning images of spectacular waterfalls around Australia. Here we focus on the magnificent Somersby Falls in New South Wales.

In what follows, John Ralph, our resident photography expert at Camera House in Erina, offers us his best advice to photographers wanting to try their hand at waterfall photography.

Somersby Falls

What You Need for Waterfall Photography

You’ll need more than your passion for getting the best shot, although a passion for photography is always a good thing to have! These are some of the things you should take with you to get beautiful photos of a waterfall.

A Sturdy Tripod is a Must

Any serious landscape photography will require a sturdy tripod to support their DSLR or mirrorless camera, as well as their lenses, which can get heavy.

You want a tripod that will offer you stability so you can get crisp shots, especially where a slower shutter speed is involved.

There are many different kinds of tripods, but you’ll want to look for one that is very sturdy, but lightweight. Lugging a heavy tripod up the side of a waterfall is the last thing you want.

A Wide-Angle Lens for Expert Landscapes

Waterfall captured using a wide angle lens

The most useful lens for a waterfall photographer is a wide-angle lens such as a 10-24mm for a cropped sensor or 14-24mm for a full frame camera.

You can also capture interesting shots using an extreme wide-angle or fish-eye lenses in the range of 8mm-14mm. It’s also a good idea to invest in some lens filters.

Appropriate Footwear & Apparel for Safety

Waterfalls are wet, which means rocks are slippery. The last thing you want is to be lining up a great shot and slip into the stream, soaking yourself and your camera.

It’s a good idea to wear sturdy shoes that will stop you from slipping over on wet rocks. You might also want to bring a waterproof jacket, as a change in wind direction can result in a very wet outfit.

How to Photograph Waterfalls and Streams

Composing the Perfect Waterfall Photo

Composition is a major challenge with all waterfall shots. It is difficult to get the right balance in your photos.

It’s a good idea to pick a detail such as a fern growing out of a rock and make it the point of interest.

Waterfall with a greenery point of focus

While major falls can be very high, up to 20m high at Somersby, impressive pictures can be created of a waterfall that is around 20cm high.

Get up close and personal with a wide-angle lens and use a small aperture to get everything in focus. Typical exposure is f16 at 10secs with a wide lens.

Good Exposure

The challenge with flowing water is to use an exposure that gives detail in the water and also detail in the deepest shadows around it.

More exposure gives good shadow detail but washes out the water, making it pure white. It’s a catch-22. Taking the exposure down – darker – means detail in the water but pure black in the shadowed areas.

The solution, if you cannot get a good balance, is to use HDR. HDR stands for “High Dynamic Range” and is a technique used in photography to capture a greater dynamic range of luminosity.

It will help you capture images that are much closer to what the human eyes sees. It takes both photos and then combines them.

You can do this with your camera’s software or with a third-party program like Affinity 1.5 or Photomatix Pro.

Protecting Your Camera

Taking care of your camera is especially important when you are headed out into a natural environment. Rain, hail or shine, there are many ways your camera could succumb to the elements.

Waterfall photo with waterdrops in the top left corner

When photographing a waterfall, you’ll need to protect your lens with a lens filter like a UV filter, as well as a clean cleaning cloth.

Splashes of water on the lens can spoil each succeeding picture so you need to look regularly and be ready to clean off drops.

Timing the Perfect Shot

Just as the colour of the clouds makes a successful sunset picture, so it can make a great waterfall shot.

Waiting for the warm light of the afternoon, as it bounces off the clouds and gives a glow to the moss and rocks can result in spectacularly images.

Case Study: The Stunning Somersby Falls, New South Wales

Somersby Falls is located just five minutes off the M1 freeway at the Gosford exit, about a 30-minute drive from Hornsby.

Waterfall captured using fast shutter speed

The falls are located just inside Brisbane Water National Park near the Australian Reptile Park, Somersby.

The falls themselves are a series of waterfalls starting at the car park near the gate, and covering about 300 metres downstream.

There are several larger falls and many small sections that allow wonderful photographic opportunities. The water flow changes with the weather and can vary from a raging torrent to still reflective pools.

Depending on your fitness, you can almost take shots from the carpark or explore the top to bottom falls – about 500 metres return, though care is required in the lower areas as it is steep and slippery.

When You Should Go

Somersby Falls work best for photography for the two hours after dawn to the 2-3 hours before dark. As the falls are in a steep gully, the results are better with indirect light rather than direct sunlight into the gorge.

Shady or cloudy days can also be used in the middle of the day. There is a gate that is locked from 8am to 8pm (Daylight saving time) and 8am to 5pm in other times.

In this case, it is possible to park your car outside the gate and walk in. Take a torch to help you see your way out if planning to stay late.

Another technique to use in the middle of the day is to move in close to a small fall in the shade and use the reflected light from the sunny areas to light your picture.

For all the equipment you need for stunning waterfall photography check out our huge range of cameras and accessories in our online store or head into your local Camera House shop for some great advice.

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