A Day Hike at South Mountain

March 27, 2016

With Spring here, I've been spending most of my free time getting back into cycling for the season.  However, I don't want to let my photography fall by the wayside as it has in the past, so with the roads too wet to go riding today, I decided that I would make much better use of my time by going out and hiking to take advantage of the heavily overcast day.  I've been wanting to get back to South Mountain State Park for a few weeks now since I've only been there one other time several years ago.  With conditions good for that location, I decided to make the two hour trip to go and spend some time around the rapids.  There is also a very sizable waterfall in this park, but one that I've never been too fond of.  There is not much character to it, and there is a viewing platform that really gets in the way of any workable composition.  Another pitfall to this waterfall is that it is always pretty crowded in this park, and today was no different.

Shinny Creek
Having scouted this park before, I knew that I wasn't going to need to waste my time with High Shoals Falls like I did the last time.  I knew that where I needed to focus my time and energy was the rapids along the trails.  About a half mile or so from the parking area, I knew there was a really good access point to a section of Shinny Creek which is downstream of the main falls.  It took no time at all to get there, and it was pretty easy to get down into the water from the trail.  The best part about this location is that despite the park being rather full for a holiday Sunday, there was nobody bothering to even look at this section of the water.  It was just me and my camera, and a few rain drops here and there.  I worked several different compositions of this group of rapids trying to create a rhythm around the rocks, and maintain a sense of scale and depth.  I captured probably a dozen or so frames from this section before landing on this particular composition.  It had everything that I wanted in the picture...the pure water in the foreground, the rapids caressing
the rocks, leading into the distant trees.  If nothing else, this was the shot that I came out here to get today.

After I was satisfied with the photograph, I packed everything up and continued on down the trail.  I was looking for more than just water subjects, but the woods were just too complex and haphazard for me to get any good compositions out of the few interesting trees I found.  I found that my best options were sticking with the water along the trails.  It wasn't long before I found another little cutoff where there were two small waterfalls side by side.  When I say small, I am talking about just a couple of feet high.  They were small, but full of character, and well worth the time to put together some compositions.

Falling Abstract
In order to make the compositions work, from the distance I was having to shoot from, I had one option for a lens.  I fit my long 70-200mm and went all the way to the long end to capture my first shot...an intimate view of a light spray coming off of the rocky ledge with a bit more powerful flow just to the rear.  This is one of those shots that Toni would always point out to me, and just as if she had been along for the hike today, I heard her voice directing my eye.  I think that it paid off too.  This one is less about the water, and more about the shapes and textures.  Sometimes it is a lot of fun to shoot abstract landscapes!

In the Groove
The sibling waterfall to the left was a little more straightforward in composition, but again, it was so small that I needed just about all of the reach of my long lens to capture it.  What I really liked about this one was the hidden textures under the water that gave each cascade it's own identity.  There was just something peaceful about this particular cascade.  I tried several different compositions with this one, but decided that my first instinct was the best out of all my choices.  The different versions I shot of this one prompted me to return to the one to the right and try a slightly different frame on it.

Off the Ledge
What I saw when I flipped the camera over to landscape orientation looked so natural, I knew I had a winner with this composition.  I fine tuned things, and got my exposure dialed in for the water, and ultimately shot this one.  It is much less abstract that the first version, but it still lacks a lot of scale cues which I found to be an important aspect to this one.  It forces the viewer to look at it in more detail to find the cues available as to its scale.

This was only a couple of very small cascades hidden in the rather large creek, but after about 40 minutes or so, I was satisfied that I had done them justice.  I pulled the camera apart and loaded the bag back up once again before continuing on my hike.  I was getting close to the main waterfall, which I had no intention of photographing.  However, there was a small one just before the stair climb to the main falls that I wanted to try photographing.  When I approached it, I could see that the water was flowing very nicely over the rocks, and it looked quite like a promising picture.  The problem that I had was there was a boardwalk right in front of it, that I could shoot from, but I wasn't able to get the framing quite right.  I looked around to see if there was a way to get down in front of the boardwalk in order to capture the composition I wanted.  There was just no safe way to get where I needed to be, and I wasn't quite willing to put myself in a position to fall in the water today.  With several groups walking back from High Shoals Falls, I decided to let this particular waterfall go.  There was going to be just too much work involved for not that big of a payoff in the end.

Liquid Gold
On my return hike, I took the nature trail spur off of the main trail.  There was an access point to the creek that lead right to a nice little section of rocks in the middle of the water flow.  The moss and mineral buildup gave the scene almost a marbled look in places.  I decided that this would be worth a shot or two...maybe more.  I started with my 24-70mm lens, but decided that I wasn't able to simplify the image to what my eyes were seeing.  I needed to narrow my field by fitting my 70-200mm lens instead.  Once I did that, things really came together in my viewfinder.  I was able to work several different compositions to highlight what I was seeing.  What you see above was my initial concept in portrait form.  This was precisely the section of water that had caught my eye, and it was all I wanted to include in the frame.  When I was reviewing the image though, I could see the potential for a landscape view as well, so I flipped the camera over to see what that would yield.

Always in a Rush
I have to admit, my first idea was pretty good with this scene, but my second attempt turned out pretty good as well.  It just goes to show that sometimes your first idea is the best, but other times, it is a very good idea to play around with a scene to see what else you can come up with.  Either way, I'm very happy that I took the time to work this section of water that would have been easily passed by.

At the end of the day, I had shot 64 frames and was thinking that I might have about four good images.  I was quite surprised when I ended up with six that I thought had strong merit.  There will be a couple of new additions to the White Water Gallery Room.