Photographing Waterfalls with a View Camera : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I would be interested in any tips or recommendations for photographing waterfalls specifically with a view camera. My wife and I have photographed many waterfalls in six states and Pureto Rico with a 35mm SLR. We learned a great deal from Kevin Adams' book on waterfall photography. However, it is written primarily from a 35mm perspective.

1 What is your favorite lens and format for this purpose? 2 Flatbed vs monorail? 3 Advice regarding tilt so that the falls will look as tall in the photograph as it does in real life. 4 Any considerations needed to protect the view camera from the spray of waterfalls? Any other sage advice will be greatly appreciated. Thanks,

-- Charles Mangano (, July 31, 2000


The information from the book is applicable to the view camera. Almost all of it. You will have trouble with spray if you get too close. An umbrella may work. A waterproof cover can be made but because of the inherent slowness of the format, it will be difficult to get close to the falls and not get the equipment wet. The spray tends to follow the water course. Try lots of different angles. Long and short focal lengths and fast and slow films. Get a camera with all the movements you can get especially back tilt and swing to change the perspective of the image. Let the ground glass tell you what the image will look like. It will tell you whether it is tall or short or wide or narrow. Just get under the cloth and move the back around. It's easy. James

-- james (, July 31, 2000.

If I may add to the question, how does one expose (or develop) for waterfalls?

For example, in direct sun, it seems like the entire waterfall is one big highlight. Should one expose only for the surroundings, and let the water fall (no pun intended) where it might? It seems that, even with a contraction (in B&W), placing the water on about a VII to an VIII still puts the surrounding terrain at about a III or something. Another problem is that it's hard to take a meter reading on the bright specular areas, because they're so small or moving about. And then there's color, where one has minimal control.

I also have trouble with waterfalls.

-- neil poulsen (, July 31, 2000.

There is a company in England that makes a 4x5 from molded plastic that is supposedly very good in very wet climates, all you have to worry about is the lens and the film holder. It is a folding field/ technical camera (a flatbed).

1.) Probably you want a 90mm butlook at what focal lengths you are using on the 35mm camera and multiply by 3 to get an approximation of what focal lengths you'll want.

2.) Flat bed with plenty of rise on the front standard.

3.) Probably it is best to have the front and rear standards vertical (i.e parallel to the falls) and enogh rise on the front standard to get the top of the falls in.< P> 4.) A golf umbrella or a rain hood or a garbage bag to keep the camera dry. A UV filter and a lens hood for the lens isn't a bad idea either.

Here's another thought: have you condsidered using a wide angle pinhole camera? Long exposures won't be a problem and you won't have to worry about thousands of dollars in high tech equipment getting rusty.

-- Ellis Vener (, July 31, 2000.

long focal length lenses get you and the camera farther away and can isolate a narrow view of the falls area without some of the more distracting elements. And it gets you farther from the spray.I'd forget about taking your shots when the falls is in sunlight and the foliage is in shadow or there is more than 6 stops of contrast range in the image for B&W and 4 stops for color posi'. If you want water to show all the texture inherent in stop action you will need the fastest film you can get like fp4+ or Delta 400. Tmax 400 pushed is what I like. I like exposures at 1/4 sec for a little blur with texture and detail. James

-- james (, July 31, 2000.

The camera that Ellis refers to is a "Walker Titan" it is constructed of ABS and Stainless Steel. Their distribution in the U.S. is widening (View Camera has several ads for them). The camera is rock solid but the movements are a bit limited - nothing you can't work around though.

-- Wayne DeWitt (, August 01, 2000.

I approach my lens choice for shooting waterfalls with the same approach as every other shot; and that is I have to be there to make my decision. Sometimes with 4X5 it's the 65 mm lens, sometimes the 300, and often some lens in between. When I use my 8X10 the choice is very simple - I use my 300, since that's all that I have.

I don't own a monorail camera so choosing a field camera is quite simple - again I choose what I own. Although other photographers will disagree I don't see any reason to buy a monorail camera if your primary use is going to be the field. Hauling a monorail to a remote site, then the more complicated set up and then watching your monorail turn into a big box kite would deter me.

I usually do very long exposures. I like white, silky water and I've found that eight second exposures are needed to get this effect. Of course when you use exposures that are this long, reciprocity failure will rear up, so I keep a laminated cheat sheet listing all of the reciprocity departures and corrections, and I also have current actual/indicated shutterspeeds for all of my lenses on that same sheet.

As for using rise to get rid of "falling over backwards" I'd pick a wide angle with as much image circle as possible. The new Schneider 72 XL has tons. Just make sure that the camera you buy has enough bellows movements to allow you to actually use what that lens offers.

I have an old Schnieder 65 mm f8 which has very little image circle but then again my Toyo field camera's bellows is very tight when compressed that much. All in all I have enough bellows flexibility for that lens, and enough lens for that bellows! Sigh ...

-- David Grandy (, August 01, 2000.

If there is a lot of mist (as in Nevada falls), don't worry about getting your camera very wet. It will dry with no harm. However, spray on your lens would ruin the shot.

Use a rectangular filter system (aka Cokin, Lee...). This makes it possible to remove the filter faster than with a screw-in. Cover your lens with a clear filter during the 15 min it takes you to compose/focus. When you are ready, pull out the filter and expose immediatly, before the spray of water gets on your lens.

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (, August 01, 2000.

I've photographed quite a few waterfalls with my 4x5 field camera. I don't think there's any major difference between photographing them and photographing any other landscape with a large format camera except that shutter speed becomes critical in obtaining the look you want. Too fast a speed and the water freezes in place, which might but probably isn't what you want. Too slow a speed and the water becomes one solid mass of textureless white. Obviously the speed with which the water falls varies from fall to fall so there aren't any fixed rules. I like the "cotton candy" effect most of the time and for that I generally use anything from 1/4 second to 2 or 3 seconds. Experience will help in selecting a shutter speed but until you've gained some experience a Polaroid holder and film are invaluable since bracketing with large format is usually impractical. I place the brightest part of the water on zone VI or VI and a half. I used to place it on zone VII but this tended to overexpose the water much of the time. It took me a while to figure out that when you meter a water fall, the water really isn't one solid mass. Instead, there usually are small areas of darkness behind the water fall, which the meter often will see in between the sections of the water (hopefully this is clear - I'm not wording it very well). So the meter is averaging these little dark areas with the bright water and when you place the result on zone VII you're often placing the water itself on 7.5 or 8, which tends to eliminate all the texture. I tend to use a longer lens (210 or 300) and so seldom get so close to the fall that spray is a problem but when it is I just try to keep the lens cap on the lens as much of the time as possible. One final thing - photographing only water falls makes for pretty boring photographs. I usually try to not make a photograph of just the fall but rather make a landscape photograph that includes the fall. The landscape around water falls is often very interesting.

-- Brian Ellis (, August 02, 2000.

I've done most of my waterfall shots early in the day when the sun isn't a factor. Generally, the highlight area of the falls comes in at zone VII and the darkest area where distinct textural detail is desired, in zone III. As far as lens selection, I've used just about everything I own. It's really a matter of how big, how far, etc. I generally try for an exposure time of around 1/15th to 1/4th. This is not always even possible. I've made some exposures exceeding a minute and a half! Obviously this impacts how the blurred water motion is going to look and often, exposures that long simply won't result in anything worthwhile. If the fall is gentle and the water is falling in distinct streams, those translate well in a longer exposure. Thundering cateracts on the other hand will just be a blob of white. You might want to take a gander at some I've done. Here are a few locations to see them. [ dreamingpoet.htm] [ cedarfalls.htm] [ springflowage.htm] Occasionally I'll shoot a fall mid day when it's overcast or when the sun is securely hidden by clouds. The exposure options are much more varied when it's brighter, but I often have to use minus development to keep the the water detail from blocking up and requiring lots of burning in when printing. Hope this helps you in some way.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (, August 02, 2000.

I agree with Brian... the only major difference as I see it is the inability to shoot ss as fast as 35mm. Sometimes, with fast moving water, I like to freeze the action, this is very hard with LF lenses. The reason is, the lenses are designed to be shot at f11 or more likely f16 and higher. This produces slow shutter speeds vs. 35mm. That is why Brians point is so valid, invest in a Polaroid back, they are invaluable when shooting moving objects with LF. Also, I have had very good luck with the Kodak book Professional Photo has a great formula for indicating what ss will produce stop action shots, which takes into account fl, speed of object, direction of movement and format. Be sure to use UV0 filters over your lenses...some water sprays are very hard to clean off the lenses, UV0 filters are cheap to toss vs. the cost of a new lens.

-- Bill Glickman (, August 06, 2000.

(not in any specific order) 1. Do get a skylight or other filter to protect lens. 2. My preference is usually a 150 xenar or 89mm wray on my MPP field camera. 3. As for tilt try for yourself as I don't know. 4. As for having to use far slower speeds than 35mm try this if the meter says 1sec @f16, try making ten exposures at 1/10sec @f16 and so on you should be able to see a sensation of motion (depending on how fast the water is flowing, and on our fickle friend, the light).

-- David Kirk (, August 08, 2000.

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