Digital Photography: “Don’t go chasing waterfalls…”

We’ve talked a little bit about aperture, and we’ve talked just a little on shutter speed.  How can I make this blur from a slower shutter speed really make my pictures shine?  Easy, you only blur part of the picture.

Just before I got out of the military my parents moved to the great state of Tennessee.  What makes it great?  No state income taxes,. scenery for days, and even a small taste or two of some Union County spring water, (that would be moonshine).    It just so happens they moved a few short miles from the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.  One of my favorite places on the planet.  The Smokies Nat. Park holds the distinction of being the most visited, vehicle accessible national park in the U.S.  Besides the walking trails, the wildlife, and the moderate climate, the thing that makes the park truly amazing is access to somewhere around twenty named waterfalls.  Some of these falls are accessible from the highway, others are from 1 to 4 miles back along the nature trails.  It is a remarkable place to visit.

One spring, I took two or three days to go running around the park and learning how to shoot waterfalls.  It was amazing.  Here are just a couple of pictures from that trip.

Abrams Falls, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains Nat. Park

See the difference between the two pictures?  Photo one is punchy with gaps in between the falling water.  Photo two is smooth, flowing, and tranquil.  How can you make you capture your images with these effects?  It’s too easy.

First, you’ll need a tripod or to set your camera on the ground to hold the picture steady.

Second, you’ll need to slow down your shutter speed to somewhere under 1/8th of a second.  (Experimentation is the key).

Third, you’ll need to set your camera’s automatic timer mode to take the picture so your finger on the button doesn’t shake the camera to blur the edges.  It’s okay for the water to be blurry, but you want the surrounding scenery to be sharp and crisp.

Remember my earlier post on the three things you can control?  Those were aperture, shutter speed,  and additional light.  well, I did leave on out.  That is the ISO setting.  The ISO setting is what used to be called the film speed.  These were typically available in 100, 200, 400, and 800.  The higher the film speed, the less light you needed for the picture.  The same applies for the ISO setting on your digital camera.  For lower light images, use ISO speeds of 400 or 800.  Be careful, the more sensitive your ISO setting (the higher the number), the more digital noise or static will appear in your pictures.

How does this apply to taking waterfall pictures?  When you want flowing water pictures of any type, you have to keep the shutter open longer.  When the shutter stays open longer you let in more light.

The basic recipe for any picture is this:

Aperture x Shutter Speed x ISO =  Picture

So, if you slow down the shutter speed, you add more light, so you need to use a smaller aperture (larger number) f16, f22, …  and possibly use a  higher ISO setting, ISO 400 or 800.

Does it sound complicated?  Stick with me here.  If you add more light in one part of the equation, you just take away light in the other two.  Your camera will help you get started with this, but you can eventually take control yourself.

A couple more quick waterfall tips.  When you add more light to the picture by slowing down the shutter speed, you make the picture too bright.  It helps to take waterfall pictures in the early morning (sunrise) or late evening (sunset).  Even better if the waterfall is deep in the woods and covered by a canopy of leaves blocking the bright afternoon sun.

Here are a couple more of my favorites…

Laurel Falls, Great Smoky Mtn. Nat. Park

Burgess Falls State Park, TN

Shoshone Falls State Park, Twin Falls Idaho

Digital Photography Basics, Posts with my pictures in them, Travel and Photography Samples , , , , , , ,


  1. This is a perfect subject for discussing shutter speed and how the amount of light is controlled in the camera. You are making me want to really learn how to take pictures again,

    Seize the Day,

    Simple Family Survival Tips For Disasters and Emergenciesc

  2. You are an artist with the camera. It takes a long time and attention to become so good at what you love. It seems to me that this is a great passion for you.

  3. We’ve got a lot of waterfalls here in Colorado too. You’ll have to show us which buttons on the camera to use to make all of these adjustments.

    Tim Van Milligan, helping you Make Money Online, God’s Way!

  4. Very cool! In the first two photographs, I actually like the one without the blur better, but I suppose that’s just a matter of opinion. The other one is beautiful as well but looks more like a painting. One thing is for sure – you’re a dang good photographer!

    Lisa McLellan
    Babysitting Services, Nanny Services, and Nanny agencies

  5. The pictures are SO lovely!!ARe you going to come out with a book?
    Sonya Lenzo

  6. Dewayne! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my question from yesterday! I am looking forward to trying it next time I am in Tennessee! You are very effective at capturing the essence of a scene! Thanks again!

    Direct Selling Advice, Leveraging Relationships for Long-term Profit

  7. Great job shooting the waterfalls. I love pictures of waterfalls. I just don’t understand how to make the adjustments you do. You really seem to have a knack for it.


  8. Hi Dewayne,

    oh goodness, I don’t think I will be able to manage that level of intricacy with photography. That is where I leave it to the experts. However, I often have a camera with me for business purposes and also to capture the fun family photos.

    Good thing I do, because one time when I was driving in Silicon Valley, a rainbow emerged and I caught it while waiting at a red traffic light.

    Do you always have a good camera with you pretty much at all times?

    Happy Dating and Relationships,

    April Braswell
    Single Boomer Dating Expert

    • There’s a book out there, I’ve just caught the title,but I’ll have to get around to checking it out. The book is called, “The Best Camera is the One That’s With You”, or something similar. Pretty much settles the expensive/cheap camera debate.

  9. At the risk of really revealing how clueless I am at this, I would almost think youwould have sped up the shutter speed but now I get it, slow it down to let more light in.
    It truly is an art and a science.
    Jen B
    The Harwood Group – Tinnitus, Chronic Illness, Fears, and Anxiety

  10. This was a good math lesson – your photo being the end result. Thanks for sharing a simple trick to help us all take great looking photos.

    Fun and Free Activities

  11. Models, waterfalls if the next post is on exotic cars I am going back to school and becoming a photographer.
    Scott Sylvan Bell
    Now go implement!

    • That’s the one area I’ve never spent much time in. But now that you mention it. Car shows are a great place to try and make your photography more appealing to others. The cars don’t mind the pictures, the owners don’t either, and there’s often a model or two who might like to accentuate the pictures…

  12. beautiful pictures.

    it’s inspiring too

    with just a little knowledge i think a lot of people could become more confindent in their photography abilities.


  13. It is still rocket science

  14. Amazing pictures, thanks for this lesson.

    Robert Kaufer
    Law and Health with Robert Kaufer

  15. I love the photos and the one of Laurel Falls is my favorite.
    I’m really learning a lot about shutter speed & how light & exposure
    makes so much difference in photos.

    Speaking of cars, when I lived in Detroit I would go to the North American International
    Auto Show or whatever it was called & my point & click camera never got good photos because there was so much glare off of the shiny new display vehicles.

    Maybe that would be a good topic for you to cover in a future post?

    Keep up the great work!

    The Success Secrets

  16. You usually have some interesting pictures up and you don’t disappoint today…Great pictures and great advice…

  17. DeWayne,

    I love seeing your photos! I will be filming my daughter tonight singing a solo and I’m going to use your tips to take a great video. Will be posting the video tomorrow or Saturday but I have to pick up a tripod first!

    Sabrina Peterson, NASM CPT,CES
    Corrective Exercise for Every Body

  18. I’m sorry but I actually prefer the first waterfall picture on the left-hand side. It looks more real to me. The one on the right-hand side looks like a jigsaw puzzle picture.

    You certainly make photography sound interesting and you can describe the steps in simple language for non-photograhers like me. Makes me want to learn more about it.

  19. Not to mention Tennessee Whisky. It is a beautiful State. Thanks for the photography tips.

    Steve Chambers
    Body Language Expert

  20. Dewayne,

    Thanks for the online advice and the great photos! I’ll have to experiment which I think is the name of the game at my level!

    Mixing Romance, Feet & ESL lessons
    Enjoy Being Online here!