So after spending one weekend on an island off the North Carolina coast the following weekend, for the memorial holiday, I decided to head the other direction to the mountains of North Carolina. Transylvania Country calls itself the “Land of Waterfalls” and claims to have over 250 waterfalls located through the county. While I didn’t count them and I have no doubt that the number is inflated, there are definitely a lot of waterfalls. Over a third of the county is part of Pisgah National Forest, DuPont State Forest and Gorges State Park. There is no shortage of interesting subjects to photograph.
Not surprisingly I traveled to the “Land of Waterfalls” with the intention of photographing some waterfalls. Waterfalls are a favorite subject for many nature photographers. In fact, a good waterfall can be a magnet for almost anyone with a camera. Like any subject in nature photography, waterfall photos also come with their own set of challenges. Really good waterfall photography is not about expensive equipment or hi-tech methods; just a decent camera and a basic understanding of a few manual settings. A waterfall photograph, like most landscape photography, owes more to good lighting and composition than to technology. So here are some tips to keep in mind while photographing waterfalls.
Light & Weather
Like most landscape photography you will get your best images during the early morning or early evening times, but overcast weather may allow you to capture images during the day. Cloud cover defuses the light eliminating the harsh patches of light and shade from your image. Wind is another environmental factor that is out of your control, because of most of these images are taken with slow shutter speeds, if it is windy out any leaves that are included in the frame will be blurry.
You should always have your tripod with you when you are photographing waterfalls; some people would argue that you should always carry your tripod with you. I am not one of those people but I am trying to get better about it. Normally if I am using I tripod I will also use a remote shutter release so I don’t introduce any vibration into the camera by pressing the shutter release button. If you are in the forest on a cloudy day, the light level may be very low, and you might find yourself forced to use a very slow shutter speeds whether you want to or not. Slow shutter speeds also have the added effect of blurring the flowing water. The addition of filters on to the front of the lens can also be used to increase the length of time the shutter remains open.
Some filters you may want to consider are a circular polarizer and depending on how much you want to slow the shutter speed down you may need some neutral density filters. A while ago I got tired of stacking filters and purchased a Variable Neutral Density Filter that provides 2 to 8 stops of light by rotating the filter ring to choose the degree of neutral density
The amount of blur will depend on the shutter speed, the volume of water and the water’s rate of flow. Experiment with different speeds until you find one that looks good to you, there is no one right answer.
Getting the right exposure can sometimes be a challenge when photographing waterfalls. Probably, one of the biggest problems is that it is easy to clip the highlights in the water. What this means is that the detail in the water is lost, and the water becomes just a big area of pure white. When this happens, the water just doesn’t look very real or appealing. The solution for this problem is to take a picture and check the histogram and the highlight warnings, a.k.a. “binkies”, on the display of your camera.
I am really hesitant to include this paragraph at all. While we say there are “rules” of composition this is normal immediately followed up with the statement of “don’t be afraid to break them”. So I will offer a couple suggestions, but they are only suggestions for you to consider.
Let the flow of the water shape your composition. The direction of movement in the water can create a powerful visual flow in your photograph. The viewer’s eye will naturally follow the direction of the water, so you should use this to help shape your composition.
Don’t be afraid to include some of the surrounding environment that gives waterfalls much of their character. The surrounding rocks, trees, and vegetation can make the waterfall image much more interesting.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, here is a closing thought from David duChemin: “Look at the world with all your senses; seeing is about perception and that’s a whole-being kind of thing. Experience life, don’t just shoot it. You can’t photograph well what you haven’t experienced.”
I hope these tips help you with your waterfall photos. Listed below are some hyperlinks to the locations I was photographing.
Pisgah National Forest
The Pisgah National Forest covers much of the north and central western mountains of NC. It is broken up into 4 Ranger Districts. The Pisgah Ranger District, the district I was in, is dominated by Mt. Pisgah on the Blue Ridge Parkway and extends on both sides of the Parkway. It is located roughly between the towns of Brevard, Waynesville and Asheville, NC. This area is especially noted for easy access to many beautiful waterfalls, wonderful hiking and camping opportunities. The district also includes the Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wilderness areas. There are established campsites within the park and hotels in neighboring towns, in addition to this camping in the park are allowed anywhere as long as it is not within 500 feet of any road.
Some of the main waterfalls: Looking Glass Falls, Moore Cove Falls, Slick Rock Falls, Cove Creek Falls, and Daniel Ridge Falls
DuPont State Forest
DuPont State Recreational Forest is a 10,000 acre tract, located in Henderson and Transylvania counties of North Carolina. The name originates from the fact that the DuPont company arranged the sale of the original tract to the state. The park is only open from sunrise to sunset.
Waterfalls: Bridal Veil Falls, Grassy Creek Falls, High Falls, Triple Falls, Hooker Falls
I hope you found this interesting. Please feel free to leave any thoughts, questions or comments that you might have.