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The Trick to Shooting Waterfalls

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LOCATION: AUSABLE CHASM, NY

Want to get that silky waterfall or that stream effect you see in those pro photos? The secret is leaving your shutter open (for at least a second or two), so the water moves while everything else (the rocks and trees around the waterfall or stream) remains still. Here’s what you do: switch your digital camera to shutter priority mode (the S or Tv on your camera’s mode dial), and set the shutter speed to 1 or 2 full seconds. Now, even if you’re shooting this waterfall on a bit of an overcast day, leaving your shutter open for a few seconds will let way too much light in, and all you’ll get is a solid white, completely blown-out photo. That’s why the pros do one of two things: (1) They shoot these waterfalls at or before sunrise, or just after sunset, when there is much less light. Or they (2) use a stop-down filter. This is a special darkening filter that screws onto your lens that is so dark it shuts out most of the light coming into your camera. That way, you can leave the shutter open for a few seconds. Such little light comes in that it doesn’t totally blow out your photo, and you wind up with a properly exposed photo with lots of glorious silky water. Now, if you don’t have a stop-down filter and you run across a waterfall or stream that’s deep in the woods (and deep in the shade), you can still get the effect by trying this: put your camera on a tripod, go to aperture priority mode, and set your aperture to the biggest number your lens will allow (probably either f/22 or f/36). This leaves your shutter open longer than usual (but that’s okay, you’re in deep shade, right?), and you’ll get that same silky-looking water.

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