How To Photograph Waterfalls with An iPhone

 

You can create fantastic shots of moving water with an iPhone. From capturing dramatic torrents to blurring and softening a waterfall into a dreamy cascade. In this tutorial I share my 10 best tips for creating amazing waterfall shots with an iPhone.

I'm fortunate to live just a short drive from the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. The area contains some of the most magnificent and dramatic scenery in the UK. Amid mountains, hills, streams and lakes there are numerous opportunities to photograph waterfalls, from gentle trickles to awesome cascades.

There are no right and wrong ways to shoot a waterfall as long as you follow the basics. Some of us prefer the soft, milky shots whilst others prefer to capture the raw power of the water. Try capturing different images and then compare later for the best results.

I'd like to share some tips and techniques on photographing waterfalls with an iPhone camera.

 Swallow Falls in Snowdonia.

Swallow Falls in Snowdonia.

1. The most difficult part of photographing water is to avoid 'burning out highlights', in other words creating bright white areas of the water that contain no detail. Try not to photograph water in harsh sunlight. Early morning, late afternoon, cloudy or even rainy days will produce a softer, less intrusive, light. 

 Overcast conditions help keep details in water but try to capture interesting cloud detail when including cloudy skies.

Overcast conditions help keep details in water but try to capture interesting cloud detail when including cloudy skies.

In the image above, I have photographed the waterfall with my iPhone on an overcast day which has enabled me to capture all the details in the water. When photographing cloudy skies keep in mind that you will want to also capture some interesting cloud detail rather than a boring white space. Experiment with your phone’s HDR setting to capture more detail in the highlight (and shadow) areas.

2. If you want to create soft, blurred, images of water then Live Photos does a reasonable job at creating a Long Exposure effect. See my tutorial on How To Master Live Photos here.

3. A tripod or a steady way of supporting your iPhone is a must if you want to capture a long exposure. I use a Manfrotto Compact Light Aluminium Tripod  - compact and light, you can take it anywhere. You will also need to purchase a mount to connect your iPhone to the tripod. I use a ShoulderPod S1 which doubles as a hand held grip. I've written a review on Shoulderpod products here.

 Steady your shots with a tripod.

Steady your shots with a tripod.

4. The soft, dream-like effect of long exposure is the result of an increased amount of time that the picture has been taken. For capturing long exposure images with better resolution and control than with Live Photos, consider purchasing a third-party app.

There are lots of apps available on the App Store that allow additional, manual control of your iPhone camera.  I prefer dedicated long exposure apps such as Slow Shutter Cam - Cogitap Software" target="_blank">Slow Shutter Cam. The app allows setting a timed exposure of your image. The longer you expose your photo, the more blur you will create.

 This image was taken with an iPhone 6 Plus, on a tripod, with an 8 second exposure.

This image was taken with an iPhone 6 Plus, on a tripod, with an 8 second exposure.

5. When taking long exposure shots it is essential to ensure camera stability. Camera shake is when movement of the camera results in an image that is blurry or out of focus. The iPhone Camera app has a timer that can be set to 3 or 10 seconds delay before the shutter automatically fires eliminating any movement when touching the shutter release button. Likewise, wireless remote shutter releases that connect to your device via Bluetooth are perfect for remote shutter management.

 Use the built-in timer or a remote shutter release to eliminate camera shake.

Use the built-in timer or a remote shutter release to eliminate camera shake.

6. For all their beauty, it has to be said that a lot of waterfall photography can look very similar. It's easy to channel your attention solely on the water and forget to find a more interesting overall composition. A great way to overcome this is to include other elements that add interest to the scene, photograph from different angles and search for a more unusual and creative viewpoint to convey more about the surrounding area and character of the waterfall's setting. 

 Photograph from different angles for a more unusual and creative viewpoint.

Photograph from different angles for a more unusual and creative viewpoint.

7. In contrast to the previous point, it often pays to concentrate on a smaller area of a waterfall rather than trying to fit the entire scene into your frame. This can create an abstract scene that becomes a study of motion and colour and leaves room for the viewer's imagination. Take multiple shots and decide later on which you think is the best.

 Create an abstract scene of natural beauty.

Create an abstract scene of natural beauty.

8. Consider including references for scale. The largest waterfall may look less impressive in a photograph if the viewer can’t easily appreciate its scale. Don't be afraid to include buildings, sign posts, fences and people.

 Considering including references for scale comparison.

Considering including references for scale comparison.

9. To capture these kind of images on a DSLR camera can actually be trickier than shooting with an iPhone. The main difference from how an iPhone camera works is that a DSLR captures continuous light whereas the iPhone 'stacks' multiple images. Therefore the the skill of the DSLR photographer is required to calculate the amount of light captured over a given period. This may mean that various graduated or polarising filters need to be used to control the light.

That's not to say that the use of physical lens filters wont improve your iPhone shots. There are many options for attaching lens filters to smartphones with more coming onto the market all the time. 

10. Be aware that you’ll most likely be working in wet conditions, spray from the falls will make the surrounding area slippery. Be careful when stepping or climbing over rocks. Protect your equipment and keep your hands free when moving around. Wipe the lens of your device regularly if working up close to a waterfall to ensure it is clean and free of any moisture.

I hope this short tutorial inspires and helps you to get out into the landscape and create stunning waterfall shots. Enjoy your photography, most of all remember - it's your camera, your picture, your rules!

All images and content ©Adrian McGarry 2018