Elowah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is one of the most easily accessible of the major waterfalls near the Portland metropolitan area. You still have to get your feet wet to take full advantage of this spot as a photographer, though, which is where things get really fun. On this day, though, I was kind of stuck for compositional ideas and ended making compromises that I didn’t like with regard to placing different elements in different spots. Plus, this waterfall always is a challenge to expose properly because of the tree cover shading the creek below this huge boulder to the left. That relative window into the amphitheater of basalt and lichen, though, is one of my favorite views in the entire Gorge and I never tire of seeing it.
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Does anyone else run out of interesting, yet descriptive names for landscape photos? This image shows Multnomah Creek just below Dutchman Falls. It can be found less than a half-mile from where Multnomah Falls pours 600 feet over a rock ledge to the Columbia River below, and it’s one of the most beautiful spots on the entire creek.
The three mini-cascades team up to form a powerful current that is actually pretty brisk when you’re standing in its midst. Friend and fellow photographer Gary Meyers and I enjoyed a recent morning on this creek and came away with a portable hard drive’s worth of nice images, thanks to the perfect shooting conditions. This past week has been prime waterfall shooting weather in Oregon, and I’d like to think we took full advantage of it.
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Yesterday, I made my second outing this spring into the Columbia River Gorge. I paid a visit to Multnomah Creek, which feeds the world-famous Multnomah Falls before it plunges over 600 feet down to the Columbia River itself. Because of the that, the waterfalls above the main falls, such as it is, are often overlooked by photographers and hikers. But they are absolutely worth the visit, even if you don’t have a camera in hand.
In the photo above, Weisendanger Falls is shown in the background, with the onrushing creek coming straight at the viewer. Weisendanger is a 50-foot waterfall that pours into a beautiful little ampitheater, while just upstream sits the even taller Ecola Falls, which tumbles off a basalt ledge and around a sharp corner past the splash pool.
Downstream from Weisendanger, probably no less than another 200 yards, sits the multi-tiered Dutchman Falls. It’s one of the most scenic stretches of water that Oregon has to offer, and that’s saying something. In this shot, I played around with shutter speeds a little bit to get the detail in the water I was looking for. I used speeds ranging from 1/8 second to 15 seconds in an attempt to find as wide a range of looks as possible.
For landscape photographers it’s often true that the more difficult it is to reach a destination, the more rewarding the images turn out to be. Spirit Falls in Skamania County, Washington, definitely falls into this category. With no real established trail, and a demanding hike down into the canyon carved out by the Little White Salmon River, it is hard on the knees but very much worth the effort.
This spot is a favorite of extreme kayakers, who like nothing more than to run the 35-foot waterfall before plunging downstream through a notorious section of Class 5 rapids known simply as Chaos. The beginning of this section is shown above earlier this month after a heavy rain, and it’s easy to see where the name came from. It’s mesmerizing to watch the river plunge, churn and spit streams of water in all directions. Capturing this required faster shutter speeds than I normally use for waterfalls, but the resulting explosions of water made for some pretty captivating images.
In the photo above, shot at f/8 and 1/8th of a second, it’s easy to almost feel the icy water about to drench the camera’s lens. That’s what happened, and I was pretty thankful for the handy rain cover over my D700. Shots like this made the 600 foot vertical climb back out of the canyon a bit easier to manage, and I’m definitely looking forward to returning here when the water level is a bit lower.
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.