First Time at Soco Falls

· Reading Time: 13 minutes

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Two Lives Unite“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/28L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, 5 images stitched together in Lightroom

Quick note about this particular trek before I get started with the actual entry.  This is one of the first times I’ve had to wait until the next day to post the blog entry about a trek.  The reason was I was processing nearly 30 images from the day which is very unheard of for a day trip.  It was 1am before I was done processing and ready to start the blog, so I gave up and went to sleep.  Because of the volume of new pictures and how the day took an interesting turn, I am going to break the entries up into two different ones for simplicity and ease of reading.  With that said, let’s get underway with the first part of my day.

For those of you who keep up with my blog, you will remember that last week I had planned on going to Soco Falls in Maggie Valley after a quick sunrise visit to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Well, the weather didn’t quite cooperate with me and I ended up making a quick trip down some back roads.  Well, all week, I had been looking forward to the possibility of completing my trip to Soco Falls after a good amount of rain had fallen.  As the weekend got closer, I was seeing that both Saturday and Sunday were looking cloudy, but with rain scattered around in the forecast as well.  In the last hours of Friday, I decided that my best bet was going to be to go Saturday morning as the rain chances between 8 and 1 were slim compared to Sunday’s forecast.  I started to hammer out the plan for the day.  My first stop was going to be Soco Falls since that was the one I was most interested in.  After that, I was going to make another road trip out to Estatoe Falls is Rosman, which is another waterfall I have not visited before.  From here, I was going to head home and possibly stop by Catawba Falls in Old Fort as a way to break up the return trip.  It was going to be a long day in the truck, but I was looking forward to seeing two new waterfalls, and seeing one I’ve been to before swollen with more water.

The day started very early at 4am so I could be on the road by 5am for the three-hour trip to Soco Falls.  The clock rang and I really didn’t want to get up.  I snoozed for about 15 minutes before remembering why I wanted to get up so early.  I checked the weather and confirmed that the rain that was currently falling should be done by 8-9 when I was going to get there.  I got up and got ready for the day.  I grabbed my Kevin Adams Book just in case I needed some more information on the waterfalls in the area.  It was looking like a very promising day for sure!

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

The entire trip West was under increasingly heavy rains.  I was actually getting really nervous about whether or not the rain would stop when I got out to Maggie Valley.  I checked the weather radar and it looked like the rain was stopping around Asheville, so that gave me some hope.  At least I was better off with rain than I was the sun.  I had wet weather gear to protect me from rain, but sun was the death sentence for waterfall photography.  I trucked on towards the waterfall thinking about compositions based on images that I had seen recently.  I guess that is the benefit to checking social media.  Occasionally, I will see a picture that inspires me to go to a new location.  I had seen pictures of Soco Falls before, but never really felt that it was all that impressive until now.  The part that really drove my desire to visit here was the fact that this was a twin waterfall with two different feeder creeks.  There were several ways to photograph them, but the way I wanted to get it done was to go slightly downstream and get the culmination of the two water sources into one.

When I got to Maggie Valley the rain had stopped, but there was a light fog in the area which made everything look really nice.  There is a transportation museum there from what I learned and found that this theme carried on with a lot of yard art at the different businesses which caught my eyes.  I could see having fun out here with some of the pieces even though they were painted and had door art for the business they were in front of.  No rust really, but cool old cars.  I even passed by one business where I could see the nose of two Datsuns among a large collection of cars.  Hmmm, I’ll have to keep that in mind for another time.  It was all rather cluttered on the property, but I could see a lot of potential out there.  There was no time to linger here as I had a full day of waterfalls to shoot, and I was almost at Soco Falls.

My route continued on for another 8 miles and apparently took me over a mountain as I started climbing pretty good as I left the main part of town.  You know when you are watching those movies where the main character is going through the clouds and reaches the top of them and sees the sun?  You know that music that plays and the choir of angels sings that one specific note?  Well, I heard all of that as the sky opened up with a glorious blue sky and a bright sun casting early morning light on the distant mountains.  As the angels were singing, I was interrupting them rather rudely by saying “WHAT IN THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?!?!?!?!?!?”  Had I really driven 3 hours in the rain and fog to be met with conditions where I couldn’t do any waterfall photography?  With less than five minutes to Soco Falls I decided to go ahead and at least see if I could salvage something of the day.  I pulled over on the side of the road in the parking area and was at least pleased to see that the sun was on the other side of the ridge.  At least that meant that I was going to have some shadows to work with.  I would have to be careful with the color casts from the blue sky, but I was pretty sure I could still make this work.

Ribbons of Wonder“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

From the research that I did, I knew the hike to the falls was going to be a two-part ordeal.  The first part was a very simple 1000 foot or so trail that led to an observation deck.  That was my first stop.  I could see the falls below, but I really didn’t like the angle at all.  I knew I needed to get down to the base of the falls in order to really make this worth while.  That was the more difficult part of the hike.  In fact, there were several climber’s ropes which had been set up and left there to aid in your descent.  With the recent rains, the trail was slippery and muddy.  I was glad that I had the ropes there to help me out.  It was slow going, but I was loving what I was seeing as I got closer.  I could see exactly where I wanted to be for pictures, and I could see a path that would lead me right there.  There was a problem I had not really anticipated though.  You see, about half way down the trail, I started to feel the spray of water coming off of the two falls.  The further down I went, the more the spray started to worry me.  Unlike rain, which can be blocked from falling on a lens, this spray comes from the precise direction I will be shooting in.  I was here, and didn’t have long for the light to last so I decided to give it a try.

I reached the base of the falls in a torrent of flying water.  I got the camera out and set up my 24-70mm lens with a Singh-ray Color Combo Polarizer.  I found a good location to shoot from and got the tripod situated.  I cleared the memory cards and registered a rough guess of an exposure before taking the lens cap off.  When I removed the cap, I started to work quickly to get a shot composed.  I cranked off the first shot which I was not all that happy with.  I put the cap back on and looked at the image review.  I was going to have to get in closer to avoid some of the clutter in the foreground and to be able to use some of the lesser drops as a foreground.  I moved up about 60 feet from where I was which put me fully in the water spray.  I repeated the procedure for getting the camera ready before removing the cap.  Once I did, it took me about 15 seconds to set the composition, rotate the polarizer, focus and shoot the image.  That was just enough time for the filter to get completely saturated.  I pulled out a lens cloth and dried it off before resetting the exposure by correcting the now rotated filter.  It was maybe five seconds between drying the filter and exposure.  Still full of water.  I couldn’t tell how bad it was on review, but I could see that the filter was full of droplets which I was sure would be impacting the image.  I tried this routine another dozen times or so with some great compositions, but I had a feeling that none of them would work out.  After about 30 minutes or so, I gave up as I was soaked, my bag was soaked, and the filter was just getting smeared with the now soaked lens cloth.

I abandoned my great compositions for something where I felt that I might actually be able to get some sharp images a bit further up the trail.  It was interesting holding the tripod with camera on it, while using the other hand to support my ascent back up the trail with the rope.  In hindsight, I probably should have stowed the camera, but it was dripping wet and I wouldn’t be able to dry it off in the environment I had been in.   Fortunately, I was able to successfully make it to a slightly level place on the trail.  There was enough solid material there to provide me with footing and I was able to get the tripod securely set up.  Even better was the spray was nothing at all compared to where I had been.  I can handle very small droplets of water, just not what a freshly waxed hood looks like after a rain shower.  I quickly saw that from this distance, my 24-70mm lens wasn’t going to have quite the viewing area needed, but I tried some compositions real quick while I had this lens mounted.

More for an experiment, I decided to go for a panoramic image so I leveled the tripod and flipped the camera on its side.  I did a dry run through the expanse of the scene that I wanted to capture and checked focus and exposure.  Then I went back to the left of the scene and started to record images, five of them in total as a matter of fact.  I wasn’t sure how this would turn out, but my concept was valid with the way everything was positioned in front of me.  This took a good bit of time with five 4 second exposures.  I was just hoping that the filter didn’t get too wet.  When I got home and processed the panorama, I was pleasantly surprised with how it came out.  In fact, this was my favorite image from Soco Falls, and it captures just what I intended to convey when planning this trek.

Soco Falls“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Sngh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

Like I said, the 24-70mm wasn’t giving me the coverage that I really wanted, so after the panorama, I swapped out to my 16-35mm lens and retained the polarizer.  This gave me a much better field of view over the waterfall and allowed me to capture what I was intending.  I even reshoot the composition that I had with the panorama just in case that didn’t turn out, but I was missing some bits on the far right.  This lens is pretty amazing at what it can capture in a landscape and when working this close to a large subject, there is just no substitute for getting it all in one shot.  However, with a wide angle lens, I am pretty restricted to how I compose an image.  It is pretty much a matter of getting it all in, and since I was restricted to location, there wasn’t much in the way of optional foregrounds to include.  Seeing some areas where I was thinking about capturing some isolations, I decided to strip away the wide angle lens and put the 70-200mm on its place with the polarizer.

I was a little disappointed with how this turned out.  I had seen so much potential for isolations, but when it came right down to it, they weren’t as exciting as I had hoped.  I still got a handful to play with at home to see if I liked them better on the computer monitor.  Regardless, I was very happy that I had used each of my landscape trinity lenses on this waterfall.  That is something that I do try to do with a new subject just to make sure I am exploring a wide range of compositional options.  By this time though, my legs were getting tired from the pose I was having to maintain in order to work the camera, and I was pretty sure I had gotten everything that I would be able to get due to the spray.  I packed up the camera and started back up the trail.

Knowing that I needed to wipe a lot of things down on the camera, I decided to make a quick stop at the viewing platform and wipe down the camera and also see about doing some other isolations from that vantage point.  I built the camera with the 70-200mm lens and the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer.  I found the best point on the platform to try to avoid the branches from the trees encroaching on the frame.  I shot a handful of images and saw that in each one I had branches coming into the frame which I didn’t like at all.  The images weren’t really strong enough to justify trying to clean them up in post processing either.  I decided that after about an hour and a half here, it was time to call it a day at Soco Falls.  I made the very simple hike back to the truck and found it fully in the sunshine.

There were patchy clouds in the sky, but the sun was bright and things were getting a little too bright for me to want to do more waterfall photography.  I was fortunately able to connect to the internet from where I was and could see that Rosman was also experiencing partly cloudy skies similar to where I was standing.  It was going to take about an hour and a half to get there, and looking in that direction,  I didn’t see anything at all that looked promising for waterfall photography.  I had to make a decision…

I had just driven three hours for what I was realistically thinking was going to result in about three images (I had shot 55 while at this waterfall).  That was not quite the return that I was hoping for today, but at the same time, if I can get a single great image (the pano) then it would have been worth it.  However, I still wanted to photograph something.  I wasn’t feeling the mountainous landscape with this light and the bare trees which was a shame being this close to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I wasn’t feeling good about any further waterfall photography based on locations which I had planned on.  I could go on a road trip down the country roads like I ended up doing last week.  I could also go back into Maggie Valley on the other side of the mountain and check out some of the cars that I had seen on the way in.

I guess you will just have to wait until my next entry to see what I decided to do.  Stay tuned!