Last day, I was photographing a waterfall. It was a bright day and I was shooting around 2-3 in the afternoon.

I set aperture to f/11 and took the meter reading pointing camera towards the sky. Adjusted shutter speed till I get the meter to 0. Recomposed and took the shot. I got the sky correctly, but rest everything became dark. I tried several combinations and nothing seems to expose the whole scene correctly. I tried to step down the shutter speed to make darker areas clearer, but that spoiled the sky.

How can I capture this scene so that everything looks correctly exposed?


2 Answers 2


Your issue is related to the dynamic range of your camera. The sensor of a camera cannot capture such as wide variety of tones as your eyes, the range between absolutely white and absolutely black is much more reduced than the one you can see when you look at the waterfall scene.

There is not much you can do about this, as it depends on your camera and in no case it will be able to capture all the range you see.

You have a couple of options though. First, make sure you shoot in RAW, as JPG compression reduces the dynamic range, and try to post-process the sky and the rest separately, low the exposure of the sky using some kind of mask in the editing software you are using and brighten the rest.

Other thing you can do is called bracketing: taking several shots of the same scene (you will need a tripod for that) with different exposure and them combine them, use the lower exposed ones for the sky area and the higher exposure ones for the rest. You can look for that option in your camera instruction manual.

  • 1
    There is a lot you can do about this! Bracketing, HDR, exposure fusion, grad ND filters, chose a different time of day, etc.
    – dpollitt
    Jan 6, 2013 at 18:22
  • Thanks. I am using Canon 500D which is an entry level DSLR. How do I know how much dynamic range it can capture and what are the higher versions of cameras which is good at capturing more dynamic range? Jan 7, 2013 at 2:46
  • 1
    @appu - Almost all DSLRs will be similar. You are better off using filters or the other tips and not worry about which camera you could upgrade to. They will have almost the same limitations for all intents and purposes.
    – dpollitt
    Jan 7, 2013 at 3:08
  • I sure forgot about graded ND filters, they are intended for that exact purpose!
    – Sara Munoz
    Jan 7, 2013 at 17:08

This tutorial may help. http://photographylife.com/how-to-photograph-waterfall

Besides the two ways described above on handling the extreme light levels, the use of a neutral density filter will also work. The tutorial touches on the subject of neutral density filters.

Summary of tutorial: Create photos of waterfalls where the water looks silky smooth. In order to achieve this silky smooth look, one must slow down the shutter speed and decrease the amount of light entering the camera. It is advised to use a tripod with very slow shutter speeds to prevent blurring other than the waterfall.

  1. Use the lowest ISO setting. For example: ISO 100 instead of ISO 400. This decreases the cameras sensitivity to light.
  2. Use a larger aperture number to limit the amount of light reaching the film or sensor. For example: f/20 instead of f/8.
  3. Use a neutral density filter to reduce the amount of light reaching the film or sensor.

A tip not in the tutorial. Try to compose the photo limiting the amount of visible sky. This will help reduce the dynamic range of the scene.

  • 4
    The link is helpful, but since sometimes links to other websites die, can you provide a summary of the key points found at the link? Thanks and welcome to the site!
    – dpollitt
    Jan 6, 2013 at 18:28
  • How would reduce the visible sky help the dynamic range issue?
    – Sara Munoz
    Jan 7, 2013 at 17:07
  • @SaraMunoz if you don't have the extreme dynamic range in the scene, the limitation of the camera is less important. Basically you have no issue in the first place.
    – dpollitt
    Jan 8, 2013 at 19:27

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