Dam, a Waterfall

· Reading Time: 11 minutes

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The plan for today was going to be delivering a print to a client in the mountains of NC, but the metal print didn’t get to me in time which meant that I had an afternoon free.  I had been invited out to a friend’s property to photograph some of the features that were there, and one of those features happened to be a waterfall.  With the heavy rains overnight and in the morning, I figured that the time would be right for the water flow, and with the cloudy conditions forecasted through the afternoon, I thought that this might just be the time to give it a try.  After finishing up with a meeting in the morning, I set my course to Randolph Country to see what I could find on the property.

When I got there, I was amazed at how beautiful the property actually was with a small cabin style house next to a large barn.  It was surrounded by woods in three directions and it just looked perfect to me.  I started looking for compositions right there at the main part of the property but wasn’t really able to hone in on anything that would work.  After about 15 minutes of looking, I decided to make the short hike down to the dam where the waterfall was.  I wasn’t familiar with this one at all, and had never seen any pictures of it either.  All I knew was there was a hand laid stone wall that was possibly 70 feet or so which made up the dam of the creek running alongside of his property.  There was a short scramble path to get down to a location where it could be seen without interruption.  Beyond that, I had no clue what I was in for.

I grabbed my gear and started down the trail.  It wasn’t long before I started to hear the rushing water that my waterfall senses told me were happy sounds.  I followed my ears and found the creek which I followed downstream.  I came to the dam about 10 minutes into the walk.  It was a really cool dam with a slight S Curve to it.  The water was pouring off of the top of the wall effortlessly.  There was another small waterfall beyond this one on another side of the creek.  It was prettier, but had a lot more clutter around it which would have made it hard to photograph, not to mention I couldn’t get to that side from where I was at.  I started to look at the side that I had access to.  I could see the area where I was going to need to be that was clear of branches and offered the best view of the waterfall and the stone wall which I found very interesting.

I made my way down to that little clearing and set the tripod in the only place that I could get it stable.  As it was I was having to lodge one leg in a groove on the rocks, another leg was spread out to nearly horizontal to brace on the hill to the left, while the remaining leg was fully extended and stuffed into a bunch of leaves below the rocks.  I pushed and pulled on it to make sure that once the camera was mounted that I wouldn’t have to worry about it falling over.  I was comfortable with the stability of the legs, now I just had to decide on my composition.

Transitions“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

My initial thought was to do some abstracts with the waterfall since what I really liked about it was the wall and how the streams of water were so beautifully flowing over them.  I was about 45 feet away from the waterfall, so in order to get the isolations, I was going to need the reach of my telephoto lens.  I went ahead and fit that to the camera and then worked on mounting the 105mm Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to the Lee Filter holder adapter ring before carefully mounting that to the front of the lens which was well above my head with the slope I was standing on.  I managed to get the filter mounted to the lens without dropping it, or tipping the tripod over so I consider that a win!  At this point, it was all about fighting the glare on the LCD while I composed the images that I was seeing in my head.  The problem with trying to do this type of abstract is you end up dividing the frame into equal halves really easy since both elements are equally important.  I tried horizontal and vertical compositions and finally found a vertical one that worked with the exception of the sky in the upper right corner.  I decided to commit to this composition and worked on dialing it in with framing and exposure.  The lighting was good, but the sky was causing me to have to reduce the exposure to keep from blowing it out.  I didn’t want to use an ND Grad because the top of the waterfall was slightly curved and there was a downed tree trunk that I wanted to keep well exposed.  The best way to do this was to just keep a uniformed exposure throughout.  The histogram was actually looking pretty good, so there was no need for an HDR bracket here.  My concern was the relatively quick shutter speed that I was having to use.

I thought about using a Mor Slo filter to slow down the shutter, but for an intimate shot like this, it would have been too much.  I just needed right around 2 seconds to make this work the way I wanted it to.  By stopping down the aperture to f/18, I was able to achieve that without having to worry about any diffraction.  I didn’t need the depth of field that f/18 was providing, but it cut the light enough to bring my shutter speed to a reasonable 1.3 seconds.  I fired off the shot and then reviewed the LCD when the image was done.  With the rate that the water was flowing, the 1.3 seconds gave it just enough blur to make me happy.  There was still gobs of texture in the water and the bit of spray in the bottom third was rather dramatic at this speed.  What I really loved about this was the muddy tones to the water in the upper sections of the falls which added some nice warm tones to the scene.  I had been thinking that I was going to do this as a black and white image, but with that bit of color, I was pretty sure I would not be changing it over in post.

I was finally satisfied with the isolation shot that I was after, and started to consider a wider shot of the whole scene.  Now that I had been there for a little while, I was starting to get the vibe of this waterfall and was seeing aspects that I really liked of the whole scene.  I racked out the lens to 70mm to see what that would do for me.  Almost immediately I saw a horizontal composition taking shape.  I didn’t have the full scene in frame at 70mm, but I saw potential with the wall continuing from left to right which also included the other set of cascades in the distance.  I reached around and pulled the filter holder off of the lens to stick it in the bag while I swapped lenses.  This turned into another balancing act as I was perched on the same rocky slope that the tripod was on.  I did get the camera off of the Acratech GP-SS Ballhead without any issue and swapped the lens for my standard 24-70mm lens.  For simplicity, I went ahead and mounted the filter holder to the lens before placing it back on the ballhead.  This is part of the beauty of this system as the Color Combo Polarizer was still in the correct orientation after the lens swap.

I went to work finding the composition that I wanted.  I kept the camera horizontal and started to work with the composition that I had seen developing with the long lens.  I quickly realized that the branches to the right were going to cause me problems.  Either I was going to have to commit to cropping the image down to a 5×7 or even 4×5 ratio, or I was going to have to go further to the left with the camera.  That was the option that I chose to do.  I shorted two of the legs as I moved the camera up the slope, but kept the height of the camera even with where it was.  The remaining leg which was the lower leg had nothing to rest on with the sloped rocks.  This was where I got a little creative and moved my Lowepro Whistler bag into position at the base of the rock to use an a brace for that third leg.  I just found use number 363 for this bag, and it worked well.  I shook the tripod and found it to be very stable like this resting on the top of my bag.

The new vantage point cleared the branches out of the composition without the need for any cropping.  Now I was able to fine tune the composition before setting the exposure.  I ran into the same problem as before with the lens needing to be stopped way down in order to get a 2 second exposure.  Here was where I decided to really go off in left field.  Looking at the water patterns, there wasn’t much detail in cascades that I was worrying about muddying.  There were basically solid strands of water coming off of the ledge.  There was a star pattern where the water was landing below that I really wanted to accentuate with a long exposure.  I felt that this was probably the time to go for an ND filter, so pulled out my Singh-Ray 5-stop Mor Slo ND and started to slide it into the holder.  I realized really quick that I was going to have a big problem making this happen without dumping the camera, so I pulled the holder off of the lens and slid the filter in that way before putting it back on.  This system really is easy to work with since there is no screwing and unscrewing of filters.

Hand Laid Stone“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Mor Slo 5-stop ND Filter

I was now looking at an exposure of 15 seconds at the sweet spot of f/11.  That suited me to a “T” and I dialed in the composition before firing off the shot.  The histogram shows that I nailed the exposure and the water was looking really good from what I could tell.  Just in case though, before calling it a day on this composition, I pulled the Mor Slo filter off and shot a 1.6 second exposure.  Honestly, I wasn’t able to tell much of a difference in the LCD between the two other than the actual water at the bottom of the falls was much smoother.  When I got it home, I realized that the waterfall wasn’t appreciably different  between the two, but I loved how the creek rendered at 15 seconds.  Even the little whoosh in the upper right worked for this image.

When I was done shooting this overall view, I spent a few more minutes and looked for other compositions.  I walked downstream a bit and saw some more bits of interest, but no compositions were available to me.  I decided to head back up to the house and see if anything was speaking to me there now that I had gotten 20 exposures in the bag.  Sadly, I wasn’t able to find anything else to shoot up at the main property.  It was still just as relaxing as it had been when I got there and I was actually quite jealous of where my friend lived.  There was just no more photography to be had from here today, so I packed up my gear and headed home the long way in search of some other targets of opportunity.

I’ve driven through this area before and I keep running into the same issues.  There are a lot of great scenes that are worthy of photographs, but there are always cluttering elements that will prevent a clean composition, or there is just no place to park.  Suffice it to say, I didn’t find any other compositions on this outing and with the rain coming back, I decided it was time to throw in the towel and get home.

Thank you for joining me on today’s little mini-trek to Randolph County.  It took longer to drive out there than I was actually shooting images, but I can’t complain at all.  I’m really happy with how the waterfall images came out, especially since I didn’t know how it looked before I went out there.  I had great lighting which always helps out, and knowing a little about the dam and that it was hand built added a little bit of back story for me which always helps in my compositions.  Remember, if there are any images here in the blog that you might find speak to you, I will be more than happy to discuss getting you connected with a print.  Just let me know!

I hope that everyone has a very Happy Thanksgiving!!

Until next time….

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