A Little Off Trail Exploring

Saturday, March 18, 2017

I have to admit, last week really had me pumped up with photography after my success at Doughton Park.  Landscape photography is a lot like that...when it's good, it's really good.  When it doesn't live up to your expectations, you just want to curl up and hide for a while.  Well, I would have loved to have gone on an all day adventure, but the weather wasn't quite what I was going to need for that.  The forecast was this...scattered showers in the morning, followed by dense clouds, then quick clearing to a sunny afternoon.  With this type of dynamic in place, I decided that I would do better to stay close to home, and do something where the sky wasn't going to be a big player in the compositions.  Well, since we were having rain overnight, that made waterfalls the prime candidate for the morning.  When it comes to waterfalls close by, Hanging Rock will always win out since it has five named waterfalls in the park.

When I woke up, it was raining, so I opted to stay in bed a little longer than I had planned...but I didn't complain about that at all!  I got up after daybreak, and it was still raining a little bit, but the map showed that it was clearing around Danbury, so I figured that I should be good to head on out to the park.  When I got to the park gate I sensed that it was getting brighter all of a sudden.  I looked to my left and saw that the sun was starting to peek through the clouds.  Well...this could make things difficult as sunshine is not really helpful in waterfall photography.  I was hoping that the thinning clouds would keep the sun at bay while I was working.

A Melody Visualized
I had one destination in mind for this trip since I knew it was going to be a quick one.  I wanted to return to the Upper Cascades which is just a short hike off of the parking lot.  I have been here many times, and ironically, the first time I decided that I didn't like this waterfall at all.  It wasn't until about my third time that I started to see real potential here.  You see, this waterfall has many different personalities depending on the amount of water that is flowing over the rocks.  The lighting also plays a small part in how things appear as well.  Early on, I never really saw much water here, so it left me rather disappointed.  I've since learned the conditions where I can find a little more visual impact.

I quickly got down the steps to the base of the waterfall and unpacked my camera.  I decided to go with my 24-70mm lens to give me as much flexibility as I could get with compositions.  I added a single polarizer, and took everything out into the water.  The best compositions of this waterfall require you to stand in the water, which opens up the gap between the rock edges.  I went down low to the water with the tripod in order to emphasize the rock to the right which was slightly higher than the one to the left.  This visual tension was needed in the composition I though.

Rock and Ribbons
Speaking of rocks, I decided to try something completely new with my composition.  I liked the textures of the rock wall to the right, and figured that the sweeping diagonal lines would make for a dramatic foreground to the waterfall.  I changed my position slightly, and flipped the camera on  its side which yielded this interesting composition.  I wasn't sure how I would like it when I was setting it up, but I have to say, it turned out quite well.  There is a bit of a jump in the picture which adds to the drama, and keeps the viewer's eyes involved in the scene.  The lack of a prominent mid ground really gives this a lot of depth.

A Melody Visualized in B&W
Rock and Ribbons in B&W
When I got home and started to edit these pictures, I started to see a lot of potential in a monochrome version.  I brought the images into Photoshop and did a quick conversion using a blue filter.  After a little bit of contrast adjustment, I found that both of the images worked very nicely as black and white renditions.  There is just something so satisfying about how the lack of color really brings your attention to the textures and contrast in a scene.

Before I completely finished with my work around the Upper Cascades a family arrived.  There was just not enough room for me to do anything else here with them enjoying the waterfall, so I decided to pack up the camera and work my way back along the trail.  After climbing up to the boardwalk, I saw that the sky was just about totally clear now.  The sun was not too far from cresting the mountain, and that was going to be the end of my waterfall work for the day.  I had at least photographed my primary subject, so I was content...but I wasn't ready to leave just yet.

Golden Nugget
Instead of going in a different direction in the park, I remembered reading about a secondary waterfall below the Upper Cascades.  I could see the approximate area where it would be, but wasn't exactly sure how to get to it.  I figured that I would just start following the paths that have been worn away over the years off of the main trail.  There was a little bit of scrambling involved, but it didn't take too long before I got to the bottom of the hill.  I still couldn't see the other waterfall, but I was pretty sure I was hearing it.  I needed to get around a large boulder to see if I could find the waterfall.  To the left, I saw a path worn away, but to the right, I saw a shallow stream that I could easily navigate with the boots that I was wearing.  that was the path that I took, and it was the right one to take.

After roughly 11 years of photographing waterfalls in this park, I finally made my way down to a brand new waterfall I had never seen before.  While not an impressive waterfall, it was big enough that it should have been named at some point.  Of course, if it got too much publicity, then I would not be enjoying this location absolutely alone.  So, I'm fine that not that many people know about this little gem.

One of the parts of this waterfall that I liked the best was the diagonal rock that juts out in front of the waterfall.  I suppose I could have gotten in closer and avoided this rock, but that would have subjected my lens to a pretty good sized spray.  Plus, in all actuality, I thought that the rock really added something to the composition.  The decision was made to include it along with the waterfall.

A Cool Spray
Once again, I decided to use my 24-70mm lens, but could have easily used my 16-35mm after seeing what compositions worked.  I added a polarizer, and since the sun was providing a bit too much light, I added an ND filter as well.  I only needed about 2 extra stops of light reduction to make the exposures where I wanted them...around three seconds.  I moved quickly, racing against the sun which was threatening to crest over the waterfall at any moment.  Once that happened, I would be shooting into the sun, and that would cause all sorts of exposure problems, not to mention lens flare.

A Cool Spray in B&W
I probably spent about 15 minutes working this waterfall.  I would have liked to had time to try a few more things, but at least I had time to get about a dozen or so exposures.  One of them actually made a very nice black and white image to showcase the textures of the water and the rock.  Overall, I really enjoyed finding this waterfall, and plan to return to it again.  I'm sure that just like the Upper Cascades, it has a number of personalities as well.

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