Niagara Falls; Feel The Power, Capture The Wonder

Last year, I had the opportunity to photograph one of the world's most magnificent waterfalls. I traveled halfway around the world to capture the beauty and awe of this exotic and remote travel destination. I was filled with great photographic expectations.

When I finally reached the falls, I was actually quite disappointed--because there was hardly any water flowing over the rim. All I saw was a bunch of rocky cliffs and a few trickles of water. As I stared at Victoria Falls from the Zambian side, I thought about another famous falls, Niagara Falls, and how photogenic the Falls are from both the New York and Canadian sides.

As I took two snapshots of Victoria Falls, I envisioned a trip to Niagara Falls, only a few hours from my home in New York--a trip that I finally made in late summer.

In this month's column I'll share with you some of my favorite pictures from that trip, along with some digital photography tips that you can use for photographing any waterfall, large or small--as long as there is water flowing! (By the way, visiting Victoria Falls in the middle of the dry season, combined with a long drought and a diversion of the water, were the reasons Victoria Falls was just a trickle.)

Before I share some of my favorite pictures with you of Niagara Falls, however, there is a reason why I led off this column with a short homily about Victoria Falls. You see, there is a moral to the story, one that applies to all trips: Plan ahead and do your own research. Evidently, the tour operator who booked my trip to Victoria Falls failed to check it out. Of course, I should have checked it out, too. So much for not double checking the tour operator's expectations!

Okay, let's go to Niagara Falls.

Protect Your Camera
Digital cameras don't like moisture, although some models are sealed against moisture (to a point). To protect my gear, I use a Storm Jacket ( that offers full viewing and easy access to camera controls. If you don't want to invest in a commercial camera cover, "borrow" the shower cap from a hotel room or use a large plastic sandwich bag and cut holes for the lens and viewfinder. Even with the best camera protector, you still need to check the front of your lens for moisture droplets. I use a lint-free cloth (available at eyeglass and camera stores) to wipe off my lens. These devices help protect your camera in the rain, sleet, and snow, too.

Look For The Defining Shot
Whenever I photograph a popular site, I look for one defining shot, the shot I'd take if I only had one picture remaining on my memory card. Finding that shot takes some time, looking at a site from different angles with different lenses and at different times of day. For this shot, taken from the Canadian side of the Falls, I used my Canon 17-40mm zoom at 17mm on my Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II (full-frame image sensor). For me, the rainbow and the Maid of the Mist (the boat that gives visitors an up-close-and-personal view of the Falls) make the shot.

All Photos © 2005, Rick Sammon, All Rights Reserved

Shoot It Slowly
Fast-moving water looks strange when photographed at fast shutter speeds. To create the effect of soft and flowing water, you need to use a slow shutter speed--1 second or longer, sometimes up to 10 or 20 seconds depending on the speed of the water and the effect you want. With a digital camera, seeing the effect right after you take the picture is a big benefit. If you don't like the effect, you can change your shutter speed and try again. My exposure for this picture was 2.5 seconds. Naturally, for a long shutter speed you need to steady your camera on a sturdy tripod. Locking up the mirror and using a cable release or the camera's self-timer will also help ensure a sharp shot at a slow shutter speed. I took this picture from the Observation Tower on the New York side of the Falls.


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richard4's picture

Everyone should see the Niagara Falls at least once in a life time, because the view is absolutely amazing, I was fascinated when I took the first snapshot, last summer. I have a few hundreds of photos with the Fall, I wonder how many I'll have after visiting Bangkok in 48 hours next month!