It feels like it's been forever since I've gone out on a Trek! Between work, travel, and the fact that the weather has not cooperated with me over the last month, I just haven't been getting out at all. But wait...the weather has been beautiful. It's been warm and sunny which is very odd for November in NC. Well, those sunny days don't really do a photographer any favors. We typically enjoy when the weather turns bad. Clouds and strange weather patterns are our bread and butter, and my plate has been empty for a while now. The lack of clouds and rain also have brought about another problem....drought. What was working into a nice and colorful Autumn, has turned into something less than colorful over much of the state. Add to that, most of the rivers and streams are drying up. With my motivation being waterfalls here recently, this was a huge problem!
Looking at the weather for the weekend, it seemed that I had a good chance of getting some good cloud clover in the mountains, while it was still supposed to be mostly sunny here around the house. The weather was right for waterfalls, but the lack of water was going to cause many problems with finding waterfalls that still had water flow. Add to that the wildfires that are burning up a good portion of the Western portion of the state. I knew of one place that was likely to still have some decent water flow, and it happened to be one of my favorite places to go...Big Creek, in the Great Smoky Mountains. There are two named waterfalls along the trail, and lots of rapids that are pretty deep for the most part. There is even a Duke Energy plant on the river which indicates that it should have water in all but the most severe droughts.
|Not So Big Creek|
When I got to the exit off of the highway, I was quickly greeted with a sight that I wasn't familiar with...Instead of aqua colored rapids, all I saw were lots of large rocks. There was some water running, but it was very low. I was really hoping that this was not indicative of what I was going to find inside of the park. I continued down the road, not seeing a sign at all of the powerful river that usually paralleled the road. I was getting nervous, and was thinking that I just wasted my day, but I was here, so I was going to go hiking at least.
Once I started in on the trails, you can see above, there was precious little water in the riverbed. There were bits and pieces of rapids that I could see from the trail, but early on, I was unable to hike down to get to them. it was not until about a mile in that I was really able to scramble safely down to the water. Gone were my big rapids with the awesome aqua colors. Instead, the water was replaced by a riverbed of large rocks. The landscape was completely changed, and I wasn't sure quite what to do with it. The more I considered my options, the more I realized that I was going to be shooting a good deal of intimate shots, rather than all encompassing landscape shots like I enjoy with this location.
|Stones of Bronze|
This was just about to be the last picture taken today as well. The angle at which I was operating, and the fact that I was right on the edge of one of the rocks caused me to lose my balance ever so slightly. With nowhere to fall that would end well, I grabbed onto my tripod and the long lens on the camera. Fortunately, that gave me just enough balance to keep me from falling off the rock. Water photography is tricky sometimes!
Part of my photography has always been previsualization. Simply put, I have certain pictures in mind before I even get to the location. I know what types of pictures I will be looking for based on my destination. Today, I was caught off guard by the lack of water, and it took me a while to get in the right frame of mind for Big Creek. Once I got there, and knew what I was looking for, things started working out much better than I was thinking they would.
|Mouse Creek Falls|
However, when I got to the second falls, I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw. There was not much water, but what was there, had a lot of personality. In fact, this one looked better than when the water flow was generous. I was unable to get the vantage point that I wanted from the trail, so I started to scramble down to the base. When I got there, I realized that the boulders at the base obscured my view, and made a good photograph impossible. I started to work my way up the embankment, and found that about half way up, I had a great view. In fact, I was even able to put the lower section into the "V" of the rocks. I set the camera up as carefully as I could considering I was on a very steep hill. It was another awkward position, but I made it work. I was able to place each element in the photograph in exactly the right position.
While I was working on intimate views of this waterfall, I had the crazy idea to flip the camera over to horizontal and work a composition that included some of the landscape around the waterfall. As I mature as a photographer, I've found that waterfalls look really good with some context around them. Not only does it give a sense of scale, it also gives a sense of place for the falls.
|An Autumn Blanket|
|A Bit of Drama|
Of course, my favorite aspect of the shot is the cascade in the foreground. This was what drew my attention in the first place. In order to contain the eyes, I used a bit of the rock in the lower right corner. Because of that rock, the eyes are forced back into the frame, and then they are lead back up streak to what appears to be a tunnel in the bare trees. I'm not sure what this setting would look like on a normal day, but I think that the reduced water flow actually made this one possible. With a normal amount of water, I'm pretty sure that the drama would not be here, and there is a good chance I would be unable to get on top of the rock I was shooting from.
|Cairn on the Trail|
When it was all said and done, I had shot 107 frames, and decided on keeping a total of 11 images. This keeps me in my target 10% hit rate. Considering the lack of water, I found a lot more scenes than I though I would. I would have liked having a lot more water, but overall, I'm pretty happy with this Trek.