McWay Falls

McWay Falls

McWay Falls empties directly into the Pacific Ocean along the Big Sur coast

I’ve seen much prettier images of McWay Falls, but this one isn’t bad. The scene I would have loved to capture would have been at sunrise or sunset with dramatic, pastel-colored skies instead of a contrasty, blue-sky day. But, when you only have one bite at the apple, you make do with what you have.

If you’ve never traveled up the Big Sur coast, a stop at McWay Falls is a must. The viewpoint is quite easy to access and the scene is impressive. Even with clear skies, the water color, waterfall spilling into the Pacific, and sheltered cove are a spectacular sight. Even though conditions weren’t perfect, I’m glad we stopped. Only a week or so later, fires burning down the mountainsides closed this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway for a few days. Even though I’m sure the landscape would benefit from it in the long-term, it would be a shame to see this area torched by a wildfire. Hopefully, this image conveys a fraction of the beauty of the region. Enjoy.


Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls with fall colors all around

Although central New York isn’t listed in many photography guides as a destination, I did manage to find several very accomplished photographers who had posted content from the area. It quickly became apparent that waterfalls and water features would be a large component of my shot list for the trip. One location that was mentioned over and over was Taughannock Falls. The websites and guides noted its height and its beauty. It also turned out to be extraordinarily easy to photograph.

The falls were near the hotel where I based for the trip. So, I made a relatively short drive before dawn one day and captured this scene. I had hoped to include a dramatic sky at sunrise but this day dawned cloudy and drizzly. Fortunately, the colors around the falls were turning so I was able to include some fall foliage. I briefly thought about making the hike to the bridge and the viewing are seen in the foreground of this image. But I quickly realized that my foreground would have a lot of junk in it down there and the foreground for this image was already quite good. So, after fifteen minutes or so of composing the shot as many ways as I could I imagine, I loaded up my gear and headed for the next location. More from upstate New York next time. Enjoy.

Eagle Cliff Falls

Eagle Cliff Falls

Eagle Cliff Falls in Havana Glen near Montour Falls, New York

As I did my research for a trip to the Finger Lakes district of upstate New York, I began to see some areas mentioned over and over again. One of those was Havana Glen. Since I had no reference point for some of these locations, I had to wander around a bit blindly to find them. And, once I had found the location, I had no idea how easy or difficult the area would be to hike.

Such was the case with Havana Glen and Eagle Cliff Falls. As it turned out, the location was in a small county park not very far from Watkins Glen State Park. To my surprise, the collection booth was actually manned. There couldn’t have been much profit to the county the day I visited. The entry fee was two dollars and I saw only two other vehicles in the parking lot during my hour or so visit to the park.

Fortunately, the trail to the falls was well-marked and there was actually steps and handrails in some of the steeper sections of the short trail. In general the trails to waterfalls in New York were much easier to navigate than the ones I find in the Southeast. I don’t know the reason for that but I certainly was happy to experience it!

I shot the falls from lots of different angles, but this image turned out to be my favorite. I like the cascade as a forefront to the falls in the background. There was a bit of fall color developing as well. It’s not my favorite image of the trip, but it’s still a beautiful one. Enjoy.

Autumn at Watkins Glen

Autumn at Watkins Glen

The colors of fall in Watkins Glen State Park

Just a short hike up the gorge from the image in my last post I found this scene. Glen Creek is channeled through a narrow crevice in the rocks creating a narrow funnel effect. The first image captures a wider view showing the flow of the water into a pool after it has flowed through the crevice. I like how the long exposure shows a bit of a whirlpool in the first pool and the flow is still evident in the second pool. I also like the way the subtle colors of fall are captured at the top of the frame. As in the other images I’ve previously posted the fallen leaves caught on the ledges of the gorge add even more visual interest.

The image below is taken just a few yards further up the trail. It isolates the chute yet still including a few of the trees hanging over the edge of the gorge above. I really like both images. They both convey the beauty of the scene well while emphasizing different elements of it. I hope you enjoy both as well.

The Chute

Glen Creek carves a narrow channel through the sedimentary rock of Watkins Glen

Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen State Park

Well, this is the main attraction for Watkins Glen State Park – at least in my mind. Although there are a series of beautiful waterfalls, this one is iconic. I had hiked up the gorge for several hundred yards stopping along the way to take some shots. I had seen this image in several places and I wanted to capture it for myself. My hope was that I could arrive early enough to avoid waiting for a long time for people to clear the bridge and the stairs as they viewed the scene. In addition, I hoped that I could get a bit of fall color in the scene just to add some visual interest. I was able to accomplish both by timing the date and time of my arrival.

The shot itself isn’t so complicated. I shot at f/13 in order to have a fairly wide depth of field. In this case everything from about ten feet in front of my lens to infinity would be in focus. I blended together two shots of somewhat lengthy exposures (4/10 second and 1.6 seconds) in order to capture a reasonably wide latitude of dynamic range. The result is an image that is very much exactly like what I saw in the field. Once again, the conditions were nearly perfect. High overcast skies created a nice even light on the scene. There was almost no wind which kept the trees motionless. Fortunately, there had been a good bit of rain in the area which created a nice level of flow in Glen Creek. Relatively few people visiting the park in the first hour after sunrise gave me lots of time to work the scene.

If you can’t tell, I’m quite pleased with this image. I think it represents the park and the falls well. I hope you enjoy it too.

The Flow

The Flow

Glen Creek falls over a series of cascades in beautiful Watkins Glen State Park

This is another view of the cascade that I discussed in the last post. Once again, the high overcast created some beautiful conditions to shoot. This is a pretty long exposure (4 seconds) which gives the water a silky feel and shows some of the movement of leaves and other debris in the stream. By shooting at ISO 100 I was able to choose from a range of apertures to yield the look and feel I was after. This shot is at f/11 which gives sufficient depth of field to allow a sharp image all the way through the frame. It’s a simple image but the fallen leaves blanketing the layered rock makes a nice background for Glen Creek as it meanders through the scene. Enjoy.


Watkins Glen Cascades

Watkins Glen Cascades

A series of cascades in New York’s Watkins Glen State Park

One of the locations that was high on my list for my New York trip was Watkins Glen State Park. I must admit I had heard of the race track in Watkins Glen before I knew of the state park. But, as I did my research for the New York trip I saw some photos from the state parks that made me realize that I had to add them to my “must visit” list.

The beautiful sunset from the previous night heralded a front moving through that would bring cloudy, rainy conditions for the next day. While most people would begrudge those conditions I looked forward to them – especially for shooting waterfalls. I wanted to arrive at the park as early as possible so that I could avoid people in my images as much as possible. I was out the door an hour before sunrise and near the park when the sun attempted to appear. There was a very gradual change in color in the sky, a rainbow for a brief moment, and then the clouds covered those openings to a small bit of blue sky. For the rest of the morning I had great conditions to shoot. High overcast clouds acted like a giant soft box diffusing gorgeous light over the canyon. I had near perfect conditions to shoot in for almost four hours. It was a photographer’s paradise.

I arrived at the park before anyone else. I made the short hike into the glen and started to explore up and down the glen looking for images. This shot gives you some idea of the geology of the glen. Glen Creek has carved through layers of shale, limestone, and sandstone to create a gorge surrounded by deciduous trees. In the fall when the leaves have covered the gorge floor, the scenery is gorgeous (pardon the pun).

This image is a 2.5 second exposure from a tripod set up just off the main gorge trail. I love how the reflected light has created a glow in the gorge. The leaves add a bit of color and contrast to the already beautiful rock formations. The fall foliage adds further interest to the scene. Of course the star is Glen Creek as it cascades through the glen and into this beautiful circular pool. I’ve got plenty more to post from the area. So, stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy.

Upper Creek Cascade

Upper Creek Cascade

A minor cascade just above the main fall at Upper Creek

Although I had hiked down to Upper Creek Falls in order to photograph the waterfall itself, there were a number of other compositions that caught my eye. I spent quite a bit of time climbing over and around the rocks of Upper Creek looking for images other than the obvious. The flow of water was relatively high for the fall and created some interesting flow in the main channel of the creek. This scene caught my eye because of the two different directions of water flow caused by a minor split in the flow upstream. The two temporarily diverted channels converged creating this interesting image. I love the water entering the shot from both the left edge of the image and from the top. The texture of the rock bed is visible through the clear water at the bottom of the frame. The moss on the rocks is still a vibrant green and you can see water draining from the saturated moss at the right edge of the image. The combination of a number of small details makes for an interesting overall image. Enjoy.

Not the Kind of Fall I Expected!

Foliage Alongside Upper Creek Falls

Foliage nearing peak color at the top of Upper Creek Falls

At the Top of Upper Creek Falls

The view from the very top of Upper Creek Falls near the peak of the fall foliage season

During my trip to the western North Carolina mountains, I was looking for some locations where I hadn’t shot before. As it turned out there were a ton of waterfalls nearby that I had thought about visiting before but had never actually visited. So, I took one day and went to three that looked promising.

Upper Creek Falls is south of the Blue Ridge Parkway and near Linville Falls. The trail isn’t nearly as developed as others in the area, though. Consequently, there is relatively little traffic to the falls. Upper Creek Falls is interesting because you can get to the top and bottom of the falls via a loop trail. Most waterfall trails take you to the bottom or the top of the falls, but the route between top and bottom is usually off-limits. There is a good reason for that. The constant moisture from the spray of a waterfall tends to make everything in the vicinity moist and slippery. Rocks are especially notorious for building up a thin layer of slime that becomes as slick as ice when wet. I have plenty of first-hand experience with slipping in creeks and rivers. In fact, there is more about that in a moment.

I decided to approach the falls by heading to the upper end via the loop trail. The trail was relatively short and on an easily managed grade. Even though the parking lot could accommodate ten or twenty cars, there was only one other in the lot when I arrived. I followed the only other couple down the trail as we both headed toward the overlook at the top of the falls.

The creek feeding the falls is pretty in and of itself. The foliage surrounding the stream was beginning its turn to the vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges of fall. The scene above the falls was beautiful enough to photograph. So, I set down my pack and set up my tripod to capture the scene. I was set up on a rock ledge closest to the stream. When at full flow the rock that I was standing on would have been underwater. Fortunately, in the fall the area is pretty dry so most of the rock was safe to walk on. But, remember what I said about rock becoming as slick as ice when wet? What I didn’t realize was that a small amount of water had been trickling out of the woods and had flowed across the rock to the creek. As it turned out, that three-inch swath was exceptionally slippery. I know because I stepped on it as I was looking through my viewfinder composing an image. As quick as you can imagine my left foot flew out from beneath me and I fell on my butt and my left hand that I had thrown out to break my fall. I kept my right hand on a tripod leg to attempt from having my camera going flying into the stream and over the waterfall!

The good news was that I kept my very expensive camera body and lens from being dunked in the water and smashed on the rocks. The bad news was that my left wrist was causing me quite a bit of pain. Get the picture. I had fallen mostly on my left side, braced my fall on the smooth rock with my left hand, and was reaching up to steady my tripod, camera, and lens with my right hand. I managed to settle my tripod back onto all three of its legs so that I could work my way back onto my feet. Pushing off with my left hand was unthinkable because of the pain. I rolled and cautiously made it back onto my feet. I began to rotate and move my wrist to see if it was broken. Amazingly, I had full motion with it even though moving it was very painful. At this point, I called off my plans to hike to the bottom of the falls. The last thing I needed was to discover that I was a mile or more away from my car with a broken wrist. I moved slowly back to my car checking my wrist continuously.

As it turned out my wrist wasn’t broken. But, I certainly had sprained it. Over the next few days, it grew swollen, turned black and blue, and remained painful. But, it became obvious that it wasn’t broken. As it turned out, the fall that I experienced wasn’t the one I expected!

Elk River Falls

Elk River Falls

Elk River Falls is located close to the TN/NC border between Roan and Beech Mountains

While in the western North Carolina mountains, I decided to change my normal focus a bit. I normally hang out close to the Blue Ridge Parkway and do almost all of my photography from the Parkway itself or from trails that cross or originate at the Parkway. While in Boone, I decided to venture a bit off my normal path and travel to some of the other mountainous areas nearby. One of the places I had always wanted to go was Roan Mountain State Park in Tennessee. I took an alternate route from Asheville in order to pass through the park. Although I didn’t have any success photographically speaking I did see some areas I wanted to check out later on.

One of those sights was Elk River Falls. I had never visited there before, but I love to photograph waterfalls. This one sounded ideal. So, after photographing the sunrise, I drove the fifteen or so miles from the Boone area to Elk Park. From there I followed the river road until I arrived at the parking area for the falls. The falls are easily accessible from a short trail. Fortunately, there were only a few people around and for the most part I had the place to myself.

I like this perspective of the falls. Normally, I shoot from the base of a waterfall and capture the cascade as a silky flow. In this case that angle would have been a bit underwhelming. From this angle you can see the turning fall foliage and get some sense of the powerful flow emanating from the river as it crashes to the valley below. Enjoy.