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. Id like to 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 in the landscape. 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.
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 to avoid photographing water in harsh sunlight. Early morning, late afternoon, cloudy or even rainy days will produce a softer, less intrusive, light.
In the image above, I have photographed the waterfall with my native iPhone camera app on an overcast day, which has enabled me to capture all the details in the water. When including skies in your composition, keep in mind that you will want to also capture interesting cloud detail in addition to the water. Experiment with your phone’s HDR setting to capture more detail in the highlight (and shadow) areas.
2. Long exposure, or slow-shutter photography involves using a long-duration shutter speed to sharply capture the static elements of a scene whilst blurring motion. To capture these kind of images on a DSLR camera can actually be trickier than shooting with an iPhone. 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. The use of various graduated or polarising filters will more than likely be required to control the light.
If you want to create soft, milky, long exposure images of water on your iPhone, Live Photos is a good starting point. The Live Photos feature of iOS 11 and beyond, records 1.5 seconds before and after you take a picture. Your iPhone captures the still image you shot along with 3 seconds of video. Once you have captured a Live Photo, you have options to create effects, including long exposure. The effect is achieved by layering individual frames captured during the 3 seconds of video. You take a Live Photo just like you do a traditional photo and it does a reasonable job at creating a Long Exposure effect without the need of a tripod. See my tutorial on How To Master Live Photos here.
A huge step-up from Live Photos long exposure is the newly released Spectre Camera by Chroma Noir; a third-party camera app for iPhone. Spectre’s intelligent computational shutter takes hundreds of shots over the span of a few seconds and merges them together. Shots can be of 3, 5 or 9 seconds duration. With just a little practice, sharp, image-stabilised images can be produced hand-held.
3. Traditionally, long exposures require the use of a tripod or a steady method of supporting your device to eliminate camera-shake. I’ve found that even though Live Photos and Spectre produce remarkable hand-held shots, using a tripod is a more dependable method to produce sharp images.
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.
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 greater control, consider purchasing Slow Shutter Cam by Cogitap Software. This app allows setting a timed exposure of your image up to 60 seconds. The longer you expose your photo, the more blur you will create.
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 native app and Slow Shutter Cam have timer options that can be set with up to 10 seconds delay before the shutter automatically fires; eliminating any movement when touching the screen. Likewise, wireless remote shutter releases that connect to your device via Bluetooth are perfect for remote shutter management.
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.
7. In contrast to the previous point, you may prefer 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 photo 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.
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.
9. Although the use of lens filters is not mandatory in the capture of moving water when shooting on an iPhone, there may be times, such as in very bright conditions, when the use of a filter may help exposure. There are many options for attaching lens filters to smartphones with more coming onto the market all the time. A polarizing filter improves the dynamic range in your iPhone photos, resulting in skies with deeper blues and whiter clouds. Neutral density filters block out light to varying degrees, bringing the highlights down to a manageable level. Recovering detail in highlighted areas gives your photos more depth and visual impact.
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 2018-2019