Photographing waterfalls: Taking photos on a bright sunny day
There are 52 photographs of waterfalls in our digital book “Photo Locations of New Zealand: North Island”. Of those 52 photos only 12 were taken on a bright sunny day. So let’s take a look at some of the waterfall photos I took on a bright sunny day to see the benefit of photographing them in such conditions.
It is common knowledge that the best time to try and see a rainbow is when there are raindrops in the air and there is bright sunshine. Rainbows from waterfalls work the same way, the only difference is that the water droplets have come from the waterfall rather than from the rain. The downside to having bright sunshine when taking a waterfall photo is that shadows may become a problem in the scene, like in the Rainbow Falls and Huka Falls photographs below. The two photos of Huka Falls were taken on the same morning. Notice how in the second photo the sunlight is much more dominant in the scene and anything that is not hit by direct sunlight is placed in dark shadow.
Rainbow Falls
Huka Falls

More interesting reflections
Like any subject, reflections look different in different lighting. While they may look moodier or flatter in dull overcast light, the same reflection might look more interesting and really stand out in bright lighting. The downside is that with brighter light comes darker shadows. Look at the photos of Hunua Falls below to see the problems that the bright shadows caused at the beginning.
Hunua Falls

Bringing out the colour
You will notice in the Rere Falls photographs below how much difference the bright sunny lighting has made to the trees with their green spring colours. In the first photo most of the waterfall is covered by a harsh shadow which would never make a great photograph. In the second photo clouds have diffused the bright lighting and greatly softened the shadows on the waterfall and cliff, giving them much more detail. Even though the waterfall is mostly in shadow in the second photo, it still makes for a more acceptable waterfall photograph than the first photo even with the sun in almost the same position. This is why I consider overcast, dull lighting to be the safest or most reliable lighting conditions for photographing waterfalls. Compare the first and last photographs, they were taken in the same bright sunny weather but hours apart and the direction of the sun has totally change they way that the shadows look in the scene.
Rere Falls
Taranaki Falls and Waitonga Falls

When the sun is behind the scene you get backlighting. It can light up misty spray from a waterfall or even water falling itself like in the Waitonga Falls photo below. This is best during bright sunny weather.
Omaru Falls
Waitonga Falls