blog & photo by JasonDozier.com1. Capture the raw power of the falls
Before you grab the tripod and set up for the long-exposure shot of the falls, be sure to take a good number of high-speed stop-action shots as well. Standing next to raging water has a certain sound and feel to it that is lost in the silky smooth look of a long-exposure photo. Set your aperature at 5.6 and crank the shutter speed to 500 or higher as needed to capture the the water in freeze-frame mode.
2. Long exposure waterfall
Now that you have a representation of the power of the falls, it's time to get the tripod set up for the long exposure smooth look. You cannot hand-hold the camera long enough to keep a clear in-focus shot of anything less than 1/30 of a second. Get a tripod. Get the camera set up and as level as possible with the shot you want in the frame. Settings: ISO 100; aperature f22-f25; shutterspeed at least 2 seconds or longer.
In order to do this in the middle of the afternoon you'll need at a minimum a Neutral Density filter, along with a Circular Polarizer to help cut the light, along with the glare. In most situations a ND-10 with the polarizer will allow you to drop down to a second or two shutter speed so the water will rush by, giving the smooth look. Shooting in shade, cloudy skies or late/early in the day will help give longer exposure times.
While the smooth flow of a waterfall is all that's necessary for a memorable photograph, why not go the extra mile and add a foreground object like flowers, rocks or some other natural object Mother Nature puts at your disposal. This photo of Cumberland Falls in southern Kentucky on a dull overcast day is brightened just a bit by this patch of wildflowers in the foreground.
If your waterfalls search turns up a bit short and you can only find smaller stream falls, you can still make it work, as long as you can find some interesting foreground rocks or folliage. You may need to get low with your tripod and focus on a large rock, stump or other object.