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.
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.
It’s true I enjoy shooting waterfalls and landscapes. But I’ve never shot a waterfall that is anything close to resembling Willamette Falls, which spans the Willamette River in Oregon between the cities of West Linn and Oregon City. This is the second largest waterfall in the United States after Niagra Falls when measured by the volume of water that passes over the falls. I had a hard time believing that, but all my trusty online sources assure me this is true.
So there I was tonight, a gorgeous, warm sunset fading away. I had just finished an assignment shooting photos from a boat near the dam shown here for a feature story. I actually saw this viewpoint as I headed up the hill to leave in my car and I immediately slammed on the brakes. I grabbed my tripod and camera, jumped out and spent the next 20 minutes shooting long exposures of the most industrialized dam I think I’ve ever seen. It’s a far cry from the Columbia River Gorge waterfalls I regularly visit, but it’s fascinating all the same.
Portland General Electric says the dam across the falls generates up to 14 megawatts of electricity, while white sturgeon live at the base of the falls under the 100-year-old Oregon City arch bridge that currently is undergoing restoration. The photo above shows just a fraction of the industry or history surrounding this stretch of the Willamette River. But the dam, as well as a seasonal temporary wooden dam, is visible in the light of the halide lamps.
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)