12 tips to Capture a Frozen Niagara Falls

Frozen Niagara Falls
Frozen Niagara Falls

I want to inspire people to explore through photography.

Horseshoe Falls is the largest of the three waterfalls at Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. It is also the most powerful waterfall in North America. Thousands of visitors come from far and wide every year, potentially making millions of photographs over the years.

With all these images and viewpoints, I wanted to try and capture it slightly differently. The last two years, the falls have suffered very harsh winters meaning a lull in tourism. I found this to be the perfect time to go.  It was quiet and enabled me to study the area without being caught up in all the tourists. This year was not quite the polar vortex of the previous year, but very cold none the less.

Undeterred by the -20 temperatures, I donned my ski gear, filled up my coffee mug and headed out regardless.

My key pointers to shooting outside when its cold and wet;

  1. Before heading out in adverse conditions, make sure your camera has some kind of weather sealing. Some do, some don’t. I would check before taking the chance.
  2. Plan your images. By having an idea of what you want to capture, you can maximize the short time frame that you want to spend out in the cold.
  3. Find what appeals to you, what you want to take a photograph of and what you would like to share with others.
  4. Allow yourself and your equipment to acclimatize to the temperature. I would have my camera out of the bag and shield it, inside my jacket, but not too close to make the lens steam up.
  5. Be prepared. I studied the weather and it was cold. I was prepared with winter boots, multiple layers, ski pants and a down jacket. I also use fingerless gloves, so I still have full control of the camera.
  6. Think about your lens choice You do not want to be changing a lens in freezing rain.
  7. Carry a blowing device, like a rocket blower, on your person. I used this to rid the lens of water drops, as blowing on them will mist the lens up.
  8. Take spare batteries and keep them nice and warm, inside of your jacket. The colder it is, the quicker they drain.
  9. Use a rain cover on your bag, so that when you put it on the ground, it does not get wet and in turn allow your equipment to get wet. You can always carry an umbrella and shelter yourself and your equipment when making images.
  10. Explore all options to make images.
  11. Take some coffee / tea and a snack. When making long exposure images, its nice to warm up while your camera is clicking away.
  12. The beer at the end of an evening shooting, is delicious.


It was very cold, but the falls looked spectacular.

Frozen US Side | 1/250 second exposure | f 8.0 | ISO 200
Frozen US Side | 1/250 second exposure | f 8.0 | ISO 200

Often attractions are closed due to bad weather.  The Journey Behind the Falls was partly closed, and offered at a discounted rate. I still went down to explore and was treated to some WOW moments:

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Frozen Waves | 1/250 second exposure | f 5.0 | ISO 100

Looking towards the US side, visibility was terrible. Everything was white and the mist made it really difficult to see anything at all. However, focusing on the snow in the foreground helped to accentuate the snowy build up.

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Frozen Horseshoe | 1/10 second exposure | f 22 | ISO 100

Being patient helps. Looking to the right, when the mist subsided, I was able to capture the hidden iceberg.

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Niagara Iceberg | 1/250 second exposure | f 5.0 | ISO 220

In the evening, the rain had stopped and the clouds had partially cleared bringing some incredible natural lighting to coincide with the lights that are beamed onto the falls at night.

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Shining Lights | 8.0 second exposure | f 11 | ISO 200

I have covered long exposure photography in previous blogs (www.paulkporterphotography.com). I love it, and this night was no different. The lights on the falls gave me so much to play with, I was like a little kid running along the shore line, and because of the inclement weather, I pretty much had the place to myself.

As the rain had stopped and the temperature did not feel too bad,  I was able to spend quite a lot of time playing with different angles.

20150304 - pkp - Frozen Rainbow
Frozen Rainbow | 8.0 second exposure | f 11 | ISO 200

I found this frame, Frozen Rainbow, to be my image of the trip. I could see the mist covering the iceberg and coming up out of the falls. I had to be selective with my shutter speed as too long and the mist took over the image, too short and there would not be enough movement in the image. My patience paid off.

I felt I had the image of Horseshoe Falls that I wanted, and ventured down to see how the US side looked for a long exposure image. The colours enhanced the movement of the water and the ice leading up to the waterline.

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Colourful Icecubes | 20.0 second exposure | f 16 | ISO 100

The following day, I walked across the bridge crossing the border from Canada into the USA. The view from the bridge highlighted all the cracks in the ice and the icebergs that formed in the Niagara River.

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Niagara Cracks | 1/640 second exposure | f 6.3 | ISO 100

The view from the US side, shows the ‘Las Vegas’ style skyline that Niagara Falls has, and it is another stamp in the passport.

Looking for a different image to the waterfalls themselves, the way the snow had melted, made these binoculars look like a frozen smiley face.

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Niagara Smile | 1/160 second exposure | f 7.1 | ISO 100

I had a great time exploring the frozen falls. I could have stayed a bit longer, but was happy with what I achieved.

I got cold and wet in parts, and my camera gear was a little moist too, but I explored, had fun and made some images worth sharing.

Did I miss anything ? If so, please leave a comment below. I am consistently learning and any further tips are always welcome 🙂

Would you be interested in a photography workshop at Niagara Falls ? My friend Vincent Croos and I run photography workshops based in Toronto, we would be happy to hold a workshop in a different location.

Contact me for details  www.paulkporterphotography.com

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