I woke up at dawn this morning and couldn’t sleep. So I threw my camera gear together, grabbed the tripod and headed up the Columbia River Gorge. I wasn’t quite sure where I was going to stop, but that turned out to be Wahkeena Falls and the trail above. I hiked to Fairy Falls, above, and a bit beyond, taking several hundred photos of this beauty, along with Wahkeena Creek and Little Necktie Falls.
Fairy Falls is one of the most photographed waterfalls in Oregon, despite being barely 25 feet tall. Its perfect fan shape and innumerable small cascades all combine to make it a photographic heaven, though. And the fact you can walk right up to the waterfall, touch it and experience barely any spray means you can shoot close up and get some interesting angles like the shot above. I’ve often found that including only part of a waterfall in the frame can produce very interesting photographs, and this was no exception. (20mm, f3.5 at ISO 200, 0.5 second exposure).
Weisendanger Falls can be found as one follows Multnomah Creek in the Columbia River Gorge. This half-mile stretch of the creek contains three significant waterfalls, all of which are amazingly photogenic in their own right. Weisendanger is the middle of those three, which also include Dutchman and Ecola Falls.
I’ve learned a lot about shooting waterfalls this summer from the amazingly skilled landscape photographers that inhabit Oregon. It’s not surprising our state is home to some of the world’s best shooters, including Darren White and Gary Randall, who constantly amaze me with the images they turn out. They are living representation of the fact that patience is key when it comes to landscapes. Their ability to wait for the right light, even it means sitting on an exposed, wet sand dune or mountainside for hours on end.
In the same vein, I’ve come through experimentation to find that most waterfalls and streams look fabulous when shot at exposures ranging very roughly between one-quarter of a second and two seconds in length. These are long-ish exposures to be sure. But in this case, I wanted to take advantage of the low water flow this time of year to make exposures of up to 30 seconds to see what resulted. The image above is a 20-second exposure at f.22, and it resulted in a very dream-like water surface that I actually find quite attractive because of the way it fills in some of the gaps in what would otherwise be a much darker foreground.
It’s an image that you cannot possibly see with the naked eye. And to me, one of the biggest attractions of photography is the ability to use a camera to create what hasn’t been seen before.
Fairy Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is one of the most heavily photographed spots in both the Gorge and Oregon as a whole. It’s a unique spot, that I found slightly strange because it was not quite as attractive in person as in the many photos I viewed prior to making the 1.3 mile hike this morning. It’s not that it’s a dump, far from it. It’s a beautiful, 20-foot waterfall with a unique pyramidal structure and a mellow water flow that makes it easy to get up close and shoot photographs. It might be the battered wooden walkway behind the camera and to the left. Or it could be the bench one passes as you walk up to the waterfall just above where it flows into Wahkeena Creek. Once I got home and viewed the photos I had taken of Fairy Falls, including the one above, a variation on one of the two main compositions this location offers, I knew my hunch had been right. The images I saw were more attractive than I remembered the location being in person. It wasn’t the light, which was too bright for my liking. But whatever it was, I’ve got some photos that are better than the ones stored away in my head.
If Latourell Falls were almost anywhere else in the world it probably would be a lot more well known.
It would certainly be a destination spot for hikers, photographers and more. But it has the misfortune of being a 249-foot tall waterfall situated just a few miles from Multnomah Falls, which at over 650 feet tall dwarfs the rest of the Columbia River Gorge waterfalls, of which there are dozens. It seems strange that a waterfall that looks like this can be relatively anonymous both locally and further afield.
I guess, though, all that just means Latourell Falls will never be overrun with tourists like Multnomah Falls can be during the summer. Thus it was that a fellow photographer and I were out chasing water photos the other morning in Washington, only to be driven out of Panther Creek by a thunderstorm and some intense lightning. So we ended up here, at Latourell Falls, with not a single other person in sight. (ISO 100, Tokina 11-16mm lens at 14mm, f/7.1 and a 0.4 second exposure)
There are so many waterfalls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge, it often makes sense to combine one, two or many more destinations into a single hike. That’s what I did Friday morning at dawn on a stretch of Multnomah Creek containing three significant falls. And that’s not counting Multnomah Falls itself, which is by far the largest waterfall in Oregon with a drop in excess of 600 feet. At any rate, the first fall you’ll come to on Multnomah Creek prior to its final plunge to the Columbia River is Dutchman Falls, shown above. Or at least part of the three-stage waterfall is shown above. Because it is small and accessible, there are a wonderful variety of compositions available here and elsewhere on the creek. I spent three plus hours there Friday morning and ran out of time after the sun finally popped above the gorge walls and added too much contrast to continue with long exposures. The photo above was taken just before that point, with the sun adding nice side lighting to the basalt columns at camera left. This is one Columbia River Gorge spot I’m going to be heading back to in the future. (Tokina 11-16mm wide-angle lens at 11mm, ISO 100, f/11, 0.6 second exposure)
So, I’m changing the name of this blog to reflect the actual name I’m going to use professionally when I’m not on assignment for the newspaper or other publication. But I digress already. I went up Multnomah Creek this morning in the Columbia River Gorge in search of waterfalls and light and I found both. It was a little bit cloudy, which is perfect for waterfall photography, and it surprised me a little bit given how sunny and clear it’s been here in Oregon. It is mid-July, after all. Ecola Falls, shown above, was just one of the beautiful sights I found after a 1.7 mile hike to the top of Multnomah Falls and beyond. At peak flow, the spray is much more intense, I’m told. But here, the lower flow provides separate ribbons of water that really stand out in a photograph. Just another reason I love photographing the Gorge and its dozens of waterfalls in my spare time.
It seems like every time I head out to a new waterfall this summer to shoot landscape images I find my latest favorite spot. That certainly was the case on July Fourth, as I headed to Elowah Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge to shoot some early morning waterfall and stream photos. This place had the best boulders I’ve seen in terms of moss-covered caps. They were incredible to climb, lay and sit on while I took photos. Spongy beds of dry comfort for my tripod and myself, unspoiled by any other voices or footsteps. It pays to get up early.
This was probably my favorite vantage point of the day, despite the fact my attempted framing of the main falls with hanging branches was ruined by overzealous greenery. Nonetheless, when the leaves come down in the fall, I will be back to enjoy the view, and probably long before that. (Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens, f5.6, 1/5 second exposure at ISO 200.)