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ND for waterfalls

Derrick Morin - Fallon, Nevada , Apr 15, 2003; 12:46 p.m.

I'll be in the Smoky Mountains next month shooting some of the waterfalls in the park. I want to blur the motion of the water while keeping the rest of the image sharp so I'm purchasing a neutral density filter for use with my tripod. My question for you nature shooters is: how many stops of ND do I need for the best effect? I don't know what time of day I'll be shooting, but I hope to shoot in the morning. Other equipment includes: 50/1.4 (for most shots), Ilford Pan F Plus 50, and Agfa Vista 100. Thanks.


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Steve Baggett , Apr 15, 2003; 02:34 p.m.

My advice is to get an ND1.8 (6 stops) or an ND3.0 (10 stops). The best exposure time range for blurring waterfalls (IMO) is 2-seconds to 8-seconds. (Beyond 8 seconds, the water tends to look too "wispy" for my tastes.) If you are shooting early with 50/100ASA film, then the 6 stops ND using f/16 or f/22 should get you into that time range. If you are shooting under brighter conditions, the 10 stops ND might be necessary. Rough calcuation: 100ASA-1/125@f16 (sunny 16) will require 10 stops to get down to 8 seconds required exposure at f/16. I wouldn't stack ND filters, however, as the more glass you have in front of the lens the more flare you could get.

Patrick Smeaton , Apr 15, 2003; 03:27 p.m.

You will not need ANY ND filters. If you're going to be shooting at f1.4 then you MIGHT, but if you stop down much at all, you would actually have a harder time stopping the motion of the water.

have fun

Bill Proud , Apr 15, 2003; 03:42 p.m.


The worst case scenario would be sunny 16 or mid-day bright sun. This would give you f/16 at 1/40 or 1/50 second. Best blurring occurs between about 1/2 second to six seconds so you need to slow down from 1/40 to, 1/20, 1/10, (and here I round down to 1/8), 1/4, 1/2, or four stops minimum at f/16. You can get this with a polariser and a two stop ND. Chances are if you are shooting early morning, or in slightly overcast conditions, it will only take a polariser to get good results.

good luck

Living Waters @ six seconds f/32

nilesh sawale , Apr 15, 2003; 04:14 p.m.

if you already have a polarizer, use it It will reduce light by 1.5 to 2 stops. Generally in deep woods like smokeys you won't even need polarizer! Just stop down f16 and you should be fine. The only problem with this is reduction in sharpness at tiny apartures.

Derrick Morin - Fallon, Nevada , Apr 15, 2003; 04:27 p.m.

That's quite a range of answers. The photo above is pretty much what I had in mind (and a georgous photo as well!). I guess my question should have been 'what is a good shutter speed to blur the water?'. Six seconds seems to have worked well. I am hesitant to stack filters, and because I do have a polarizer I think it's wise to buy a ND filter that provides significantly more density that a filter already in my bag. Thanks for the input. Any further coments about acheiving successful waterfall photos are welcome!

Christian Deichert , Apr 15, 2003; 05:27 p.m.


I find that 1/2 second is plenty for most situations -- any more than that and you risk blurring vegetation. I find that cloudy days are best for shooting falls (makes the contrast range easier), and a polarizer is a must to cut the glare on the rocks and let the white water stand out against darker rocks. Since you don't like stacking, you may consider getting a warming polarizer for color shots on cloudy days. I've got a few Appalachian waterfalls in my folders here on photo.net if you want to see how I shoot 'em -- give you a better perspective on whether to follow or ignore my advice. :)

Shun Cheung , Apr 15, 2003; 08:13 p.m.

I too tend to use 1/8 to 1/2 sec to blur the motion of waterfalls and rapids, and you can work out the type of ND filter you'll need. I would imagine that a 3 to 4 stop ND (including any polarizer you might use) should get the job done. A 10-stop ND filter seems to be pretty extreme.

Larry Norris , Apr 15, 2003; 10:06 p.m.

If you are shooting 50 ASA film, I can't imagine having to use a 10 stop filter to get the look you're after. If it's bright enough to need a filter that dense, then it is much too bright to get a good photo. I have shot a large number of the waterfalls in that area and usually use a 2 stop ND and almost always a polarizer to get the look I'm after. You will find that the more water that is flowing over the falls, the shorter the exposure time to prevent the white water from losing all detail. On some falls with a smaller flow in the woods I have had exposures up to 20 seconds with the above filters. You might want to consider a wider lens in order to take in all of the falls in some locations.

Good luck.

Kent Staubus , Apr 15, 2003; 11:45 p.m.

I shoot waterfalls at 1/30 @ ISO 100, sometimes 1/15. That way, my photos don't look like everyone else's.

Kent in SD

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