Scouting Hanging Rock Waterfalls

· Reading Time: 16 minutes

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Secret Behind the Window“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

With my Winter Waterfall Workshop coming up in less than a month, I decided I might need to go and scout the location out once more since it has been about a year since I’ve been to the waterfalls at Hanging Rock.  I needed to make sure that they hadn’t been moved or something like that.  I doubted that they would have moved, but it was a good idea to go back out there and see what the area was looking like currently.  I’ve been surprised by fallen trees before here, and didn’t want that to happen during the workshop.  With the weather forecast set for a very cloudy day with low clouds and thick cover, I knew that waterfalls would be a good choice for a subject.  Since it has been raining a little bit recently the water flow should actually be about average which would make it worth taking the camera.  Since I wasn’t needing to worry about sunrise or taking advantage of the morning shade, I was able to get a late start and didn’t leave until about 7:30 in the morning.  That put me at Hanging Rock about 8:15 which was perfect.  The clouds were just coming in and it was looking like a great day.  As an added bonus, there was still some color in the trees which always makes waterfall photography more fun.

I had a total of 5 named waterfalls with an additional two unnamed ones to choose from.  I decided to work the same route that the workshop would take for simplicity.  That was going to mean starting off at Window Falls which has the most steps to deal with so I try to get that out of the way early while everyone is fresh and excited.  When I got there, I realized that I wasn’t alone.  There was another hiker there with her dog, so I decided to leave them be at the base of the waterfall while I scrambled up the rocks to the area behind the window.  There is a nice little cascade back there which I enjoy photographing when the light is very diffused such as today.  If the sun is out, there are too many highlights and shadows to make it work since it is in a partial cave.

When I got up behind the window I found some really good water flow for this cascade and decided that I was going to capture a few images of it.  I knew from experience that I tend to like the up close and personal compositions of this cascade, although one from further back can also work quite well.  I took the scene in and decided that I was going to use my standard lens and get in reasonably close without going seriously wide angle on it.  Of course, since this was a waterfall, I had to use a polarizer, so I mounted the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer which would remain on the entire day.  Now it was just a matter of where to place the tripod which was the hardest part of the equation.

I managed to get a nice little location just downstream which allowed me to capture the waterfall while excluding the bright sky above the trees which always tries to ruin this shot for me.  I tried a few portrait orientation shots before I flipped the camera horizontal and went for a landscape shot.  That composition seemed to have the best flow to it and it was ultimately the one that I picked.  I had come to Hanging Rock with the intention of shooting some isolations since I have had quite a bit going on lately and I wanted to center myself.  I tried some isolations here but they just didn’t work for me.  Even though I was wanting to focus in on the details, it just wasn’t working for me at this particular time.  After about 20 minutes, I had shot all I cared to shoot of this small cascade and decided it was time to scramble down to see Window Falls from the base.

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

I’ll go ahead and put it out there now.  Window Falls has never been one of my favorite waterfalls here at Hanging Rock.  It is a nice example of a water drop and it has some nice isolations to it after it hits the ground.  However, the compositions are awkward for me and I usually don’t care much for the images that I get from here.  It is a great starting location for the workshop though as we can talk about all kinds of different aspects of photography here.  For today, I was happy to see that there was a good deal of water coming off the ledge and the lighting was excellent with plenty of shadow detail under the ledge.

I had promised myself that I wouldn’t shoot the typical compositions from the front of the waterfall.  I wanted to get the images from the sides today.  I actually started under the right side with some vertical compositions of the spray.  They looked really good in the camera and I was excited about them, but when I got home the water just didn’t have the presence that I needed it to have.  The actual image was quite weak without the pop of the waterfall.  After wiping my Polarizer off from the spray several times, I decided to move to the other side to see if I could have any different luck.  It took me a little while to find the right spot to shoot from since I wanted to exclude the sky above, while still getting the entire waterfall.

This perspective has always been a lot of fun to work with because the cliff really looks dramatic at this angle.  There were several things that I used to dictate the composition which required the use of my wide angle lens.  I wanted to have the right side of the composition framed with a fallen tree which would naturally keep the eyes in the frame while another tree growing horizontally above the waterfall did the job at the top of the frame.  There were a couple of large rocks to the left of the waterfall that I wanted to use to carry the frame over to the left putting the waterfall on the right third line.  There wasn’t much I could use at the base of the waterfall for a framing element, and the terminal end of the drop was rather boring anyway.  I decided to use one of the natural curves of the rock to establish the bottom part of the frame.  It was all up to subtle movements from there to determine the relationship between all of the elements.

Like a Whisper“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

When I was relatively sure that I had the image that I wanted from the left side, I decided to try something different from the right side.  I went a little lower this time and decided not to get the spry as much as the cascades below.  The icy shelf provided a nice foreground interest and the waterfall became a framing element for a large rock with an interesting root system growing on it.  The picture continued on through the woods which gave it a lot of depth.  It was not my standard image of this waterfall, but it does show what is possible with the compositions here.  I tried a few more from this side, but just couldn’t really get anything else that I really liked.  Also, it was becoming a pain to keep wiping the polarizer off as it was getting sprayed relentlessly from the waterfall.

From here, I went back to the front of the waterfall where I had promised I wouldn’t shoot from.  Since I had done so much on either side, I thought I owed it to myself to get the standard shots of this waterfall.  However, I found something kind of interesting.  Since I had been working on some very different and dramatic images, the straight on shot of the waterfall wasn’t nearly as interesting.  After a handful of exposures I decided to call it quits from this waterfall.  I wasn’t mad about it though as I was pretty sure I had some of the best images from here that I have taken.  That sure motivated me to continue on with my morning.

Since Hidden Falls was just up the trail, that was my second stop which is also one for the workshop.  I have photographed this waterfall many times with varying levels of success.  In fact, one of the images that I shot here over 10 years ago still hangs in the visitor’s center after winning a first place ribbon at the Dixie Classic Fair.  With a collection of many images from here over the years, I didn’t see any reason to pull the camera back out again.  The water flow was marginal here which kept me from making this a standout image.  Since I didn’t think I could do any better than I had in the past, I just enjoyed the scene briefly and then continued on up the trail back to the parking lot.

Staring at the Colors“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

As I was walking back through the picnic area I came across the shelters which I have photographed on occasion.  I generally try for small sections of them so that they don’t just look like picnic shelters.  The first one that I came to had a nice stone staircase which was sitting under some really nice fall colors.  I had shot a scene similar to this a couple of years ago and it had done very well.  I thought that I would give it another try, but using a different lens for a little different perspective.  I also was going to shoot it from a different angle.  I opted for my standard lens as opposed to my telephoto as I had used last time. This gave me a little more depth to the image and the view from the quarter showed the entire tree and introduced some more diagonal lines to the frame which I liked.  I only shot a few variations on the composition until I was pretty sure I would be happy with the outcome.

When I got home, this was almost one of the images that ended up in the trash pile because the overall warm color tones to the image seemed to make it very flat and lifeless.  I did a quick edit on it, but didn’t really like how it turned out.  It wasn’t until a second attempt that I started to play around with the color tones just a little bit to add some color contrasts to the scene that it started to make sense and work out.  What you see here is the vision that I had at the time of the capture.  The trees stand out nicely against the leaves, and the stone stairs provide that much needed color contrast to cool the image ever so softly.  It isn’t my favorite image of the day, but I’m still very glad that I stuck with it and came to this final version.

Looking at the time, it was nearly noon and I had planned on being done here by 1pm.  I had only been to two waterfalls thus far, and wanted to visit another two before the day was out.  Next on my list was the Upper Cascades which has turned into one of my favorites over the years after I was initially turned off by it due to low water flow.  It is a short hike on the other side of the parking lot, so it was an easy choice to decide to visit that one before I left.  Every time I hike this route it seems to get shorter and shorter.  In what seemed like less than 10 minutes I was there.  The only problem…the water flow was terrible here and the waterfall had very little personality.  In fact, there was really no need in taking any more images of this one since I have a bunch that I like a lot already in my portfolio.  The hike wasn’t a complete waste though since there is another cascade just below this one which I love to photograph.

Finding Zen“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Mor Slo 5-stop ND Filter

The lower section is accessible by a scramble path just before the boardwalk to get to the Upper Cascades.  I made my way down quickly since I know the way it goes fairly well now.  When I came around the rock to see the waterfall, I was impressed with the water flow.  This is one that looks good with a little water, or a lot.  Now it was just a matter of finding a composition that I liked.  I started off by using my telephoto lens and shooting isolations since I already have a couple of images from this one that I really like.  This is a great waterfall for shooting isolations, but just like with the other ones, I wasn’t feeling the isolations today.  They just weren’t coming to me like I was expecting.  What I was getting was uninspired and I ended up not using a single one of them.  I was still drawn to this waterfall though, and I decided that it was worth capturing the full image.  I swapped out my lens for a wide angle one that would allow me to show the depth of the scene.  Typically, I will shoot this one with my standard lens, but I was wanting something different today.  As a matter of fact, I had been shooting at around 3.2 seconds which was my regular for these waterfalls, but I was wanting something different there as well.  I slid in a Singh-Ray Mor Slo 5-stop ND Filter to cut the light coming into the lens which allowed me to have a 20 second shutter speed along with the Polarizer which was still attached.

I started out from the shore beside the rock wall to keep my feet out of the water.  I tried vertical and horizontal compositions and found them both to work equally well.  However, when I started to edit the first set of images from here, I decided that a square crop was actually much better in terms of showing the relaxing nature of this little cascade which was the mood I was trying to capture from here.  I was wanting to get in closer, but the tree to the right was much bigger than I remember which was going to make it difficult.  Plus, I was going to have to stand in the water which was over my ankles.  My current boots were not all that great for standing in the water anymore as the waterproof qualities have been compromised for some time now.  I wanted the shot though…and that meant I was going to get wet feet.

Crystals and Cascades“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Mor Slo 5-stop ND Filter

I rolled up my pants and went on out in the water.  I got myself positioned in the branches of the tree with the tripod just under one of the branches.  I started to frame up the shot that I wanted and adjusted the position of the tripod until I had the right composition that really showed the drama in this little waterfall.  This is one of the best features of this waterfall.  It has a lot of different personalities depending on the angle that you shoot it from.  Another thing that I really liked about this view was the ice from the spray of the waterfall.  This was something that I didn’t have in my other images and I thought it added a great deal of balance to the image.  I kept the setup the same from the previous shot and maintained the 20 second exposure.  Normally this would be too long, but with the light flow of water it was just right.  There was still plenty of detail through the streams of water and lots of contrast to work with.

With a good many images in the bag from this little waterfall, I decided it was time to hike back to the truck.  It was just about 1pm now and I was still on schedule for the day.  In fact, I thought about going out to the Lower Cascades before heading home but after considering the water flow, I opted not to.  I have a good many images from that location where the water was perfect.  I really saw no need to hike out there today.  There were actually a few spots I wanted to consider for photography on the way home along Hwy 8.  If I left now, I would have the time to check those locations out and that was just what I did.

Unfortunately, those locations didn’t turn out like I was hoping.  There was a nice Ford truck that was sitting next to a fence I had seen on the way up.  When I got there and started to study it, I didn’t like the background at all.  I saw no way of photographing it in a simple composition so I opted not to bother with it.  There was also a barn that I wanted to shoot, but the sky wasn’t interesting enough to pull that composition off.  I’ll keep that one in my back pocket for later.  I found another couple of barns which didn’t really capture my imagination either.  With 87 images saved, I suppose I was done for the day.  Nothing else was jumping out at me and my creativity was tapped out.  I just wanted to get home and see what I had captured.

After the editing process was over the images that I had were decent.  They weren’t as good as I was hoping though.  I think that the ones that I decided to keep will show well though and I’m proud of them.  There are just times that the reality doesn’t match the expectation and this was one of those times I think.  The really bad part of that for a photographer is that I can look at perfectly fantastic images and be let down by them because I had higher hopes for them.  This is not a bar that exists for the viewer though, and often times, the audience loves images that the artist was never all that happy with.  It is just one of those weird aspects of being an artist that I am learning to live with.

Thank you so much for joining me on my adventure to Hanging Rock.  If you would like to learn a little about I photograph waterfalls, there are still slots left for the upcoming Winter Waterfall Workshop which is scheduled for December 7th.  This workshop is open to all experience levels, and it will be an educational experience for all.  When I started doing workshops, this was the one that I hosted first since there is always a lot of interest in photographing waterfalls.  Now is the time to practice with a lot of different types of waterfalls, so get signed up today.  Hope to see you in December!

Also, don’t forget to register for my upcoming webinar hosted by Singh-Ray Filters.  I’ll be talking about the benefits of photographing close to home.  So, if you think that you have to travel all over creation to get great photos, you just might be mistaken.  Get signed up for free and enjoy from the comfort of your home.

Until next time…

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