How to Photograph a Waterfall Using a Polarizer

Waterfalls have been a compelling subject for photographers since the the birth of the art form; they represent Mother Nature at her most powerful and beautiful. How, then, do we keep making interesting photos of something so often captured? In this video, Bryan Peterson demonstrates how, by combining the glory of nature with a bit of artistic intervention, you can do just that:

For his subject, Peterson uses the Upper North Falls in Silver Falls State Park, Oregon–a stone’s throw from his former home in Salem. The falls, surrounded by lush greenery and cascading into a wide, babbling creek, make for a beautiful photograph on their own, but Peterson shows how adding a little more visual interest can really highlight their beauty:

  1. Set up your tripod and camera low to the surface of the water (or simply the ground).
  2. Use a wide-angle lens, like the Nikkor 17-35mm, to capture as much of the scenery as possible.
  3. To keep the entire image in focus while giving the falls a sense of motion, use a small aperture setting and a slow shutter speed.
  4. Add a polarizing filter to your lens (Peterson uses the Tiffen 77mm Circular Polarizer). This will not only reduce glare from the water’s surface and increase color saturation, it will allow you to use an even longer shutter speed.
  5. Since you’re using such a long exposure, use the Mirror Lock-Up setting on your camera, as well as a cable release to cut down on blurring.
  6. Lastly, add the finishing touch: a bit of color in the foreground to make a more compelling composition. Peterson uses fallen autumn leaves–obviously, these will not always be available, so get creative!
  7. Expose and enjoy the results!
waterfall polarizer

A comparison between the image with no intervention from the photographer, and the image with added leaves. Both are pretty, but the latter is a bit more interesting to look at.

“Remember: you are in charge of your own creativity.”

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