How to photograph waterfalls (Specifically the Niagara Falls)

Updated: Apr 12, 2020

Are you planning a hike or a trip to a waterfall soon? Maybe you're gathering up the family and heading to one of the Seven Wonders of the World... the breathtaking Niagara Falls!


Let me briefly share with you some of my recent photos from the Canadian-side of the Niagara Falls and a little know-how when it comes to shooting waterfalls.



Pro Tip: While both the American Falls and the Horseshoe Falls are beautiful, your best view will be from the Canadian side, as shown below.



Let's talk camera settings. One of the most important elements here is shutter speed. Let me take you from quicker to slower so that you can see the results.


Quick shutter speed to capture the falls. Sony, Canon, Pentax, Fuji and Nikon can all shoot this photo as well.
Freeze motion in Niagara Falls

This shot above was taken at 1/50 sec, f/11 and ISO 50. Don't let the edit fool you. It is a bit dark but remember whose site you are on right now. Mr. Brian James likes the dark and moody style. This shutter speed is around the same as an automatic setting would give you on a Sony or another camera.

Next let's increase the amount of time the shutter is open. This will require us to make a few more adjustments so that our photo isn't overexposed. Remember this as we move into the longer exposure shots. You will absolutely 100% need a tripod. The longer our shutter is open, the more 'camera shake' we will experience, resulting in a very blurry photo. I prefer something with a ball head like this tripod here. I feel that it’s the easiest to maneuver and adjust with minimal effort.


A view of Niagara Falls from the Canadian side.
Moody and Rich Horseshoe Falls

This shot above was taken at 1.6 sec, f/14 and ISO 100. You'll notice that because the shutter was open longer, I had to compensate with a higher f-stop and I also increased my ISO just a little. It was quite overcast when I shot, but as I said before, I didn't want to overexpose.


If you're photographing a large waterfall with mist or the Niagara Falls specifically, I recommend a 1.3 to 2.0 second exposure to minimize all of that mist floating around.



Let's increase the length of time our shutter stays open even further and let us see what happens.


Dark edit of the Niagara Falls using Adobe Lightroom. Long exposure of a waterfall.
Dark and mysterious Niagara Falls.

Shot at 2.0 sec at f/18, ISO 100. Now for my liking, this shot is butter! In layman's terms, this shot is just the right mixture of light and smooth water for my style. Keep in mind, this photo was darkened and my moody edits were applied using Adobe Lightroom.


Close up of the Niagara Falls in black and white. Photo credit to Mr. Brian James.
Niagara Falls in B&W

You may now this about me already but I like to mix things up and experiment. Her is an example of a closeup shot in black and white. The shutter speed here was 1.3 sec at f/14 and ISO 100. Again, I like to stay within this range of 1-2 seconds to get that smooth dreamy look without looking too hazy.



Pro Tip: If you are looking for an even longer exposure during daylight hours then you will need a Neutral Density or ND filter to achieve this look. The ND filter will allow you keep the shutter open longer without overexposing the shot.


Canada's horseshoe falls photographed close up by mr Brian James.
Moody Teal Niagara Falls

Last but not least we have a similar shot using my "moody teal" preset for Lightroom. This was accomplished again with a 1.3 sec exposure at f/14 and ISO 100.


Pro Tip: When shooting the Niagara Falls make sure you have a lens cloth and a lens hood on hand. I can't tell you how many times I was drying mist and water droplets from my lens. It really can be aggravating. It may be advantageous to shoot father away from the falls with a longer focal length lens to avoid as much mist as you can.



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