Every winter I look forward to shooting waterfalls in the Western Cape. Waterfalls are one of those features, just like a campfire or waves crashing on the beach, that you are drawn to staring at for long periods of time. A fair bit of planning goes into choosing the right time to go.
It’s the perfect time of year now to go shoot waterfalls in the Western Cape, so here are a few pointers to get you started.
1) Use a polarizer
The polarizer cuts out all the reflective glare in the water and on the wet leaves and moss. It also makes the lush green colour stand out more and I’d say is an essential tool to have for waterfalls.
2) Have a sturdy tripod
A sturdy tripod is another essential piece of gear for shooting waterfalls as you often have to get into the water to take the best shot. So don’t be afraid to get your feet wet when shooting waterfalls.
3) Lenses and composition
I generally use a wide-angle lens and try to find a nice foreground of rocks or ferns or a smaller area of white water. This allows your eye to flow naturally from the points of interest in the foreground to the main waterfall positioned mid to back of the frame.
For the best water motion effect, I recommend an exposure time of between 1 to 5 seconds depending on how fast the water is flowing. You may need to use an ND filter to achieve this. If you don’t have a filter go early or late in the day. This should also help you avoid direct or harsh light in your photo. The aperture should be between f8 and f14. Focus on the point of interest, usually about a third into your frame. This can be the waterfall or a prominent rock or log.
5) Pitfalls to avoid
The biggest pitfall I see is people going to capture waterfalls on the day that it is raining. Generally, the water is still very brown and muddy and the light isn’t great as it will still be overcast. You also have the danger risk of the rocks being extremely slippery and flash flooding. In my experience, I’ve found a day or two after big rains is generally the best time to go shoot waterfalls.
These images were captured in the Table Mountain national park area with my Nikon z6ii and 16-35mm lens at 30mm, 4 seconds, f14, iso100 with a polarizer.
Article & images by Kyle Goetsch