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.
Normally, it’s roughly a 40 foot drop from the top of Willamette Falls. The falls mark the crossing between Oregon City on the east bank of the Willamette River and West Linn on the west. Located 26 miles from point where the Willamette splits off and heads south from the Columbia River, boats must negotiate this obstacle via a system of locks and canals if they wish to head further south into the valley.
Recent rainstorms, snowmelt and subsequent flooding, however, did their best to fill in that formerly 40-foot plunge (above) as the river reached flood stage last month. Not surprisingly, that brought crowds of sight-seers to the Falls, with lines of cars sticking out into the busy 99E roadway on a recent Saturday afternoon. Many were armed with cameras of all descriptions, and I’m sure some of them captured more compelling images than the one above.
What I do like about this shot, however, is the sense of motion and turbulence lent by the slow shutter speed and ferocious water action. Shot at 1/10th of a second at f22, it was just slow enough to give an interesting effect, particularly on the lip of the waterfall as it pours over the edge. In addition to the locks and canal, the vintage power plant (bottom) on the West Linn side of the river can provide plenty of fascinating detail when viewed through a telephoto lens. Oregon never is short of fantastic sights, places and people to photograph, that’s for sure.