Winter Waterfall Workshop

· Reading Time: 17 minutes

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Six months ago it was but a dream of mine to conduct a workshop.  A few months ago, that dream got a little closer to reality after some pretty substantial persuading that included a meme sent to me that had President Trump holding up the official document that said “Do the dang workshop.”  I finally decided to take a positive attitude  towards the opportunity and agreed to schedule on.  For the first workshop ever, I decided that it would be best to do it for free just in case I really flubbed things up.  At least this way I could say, you got what you paid for.  The truth of the matter was I really wanted this to be a success, and I wanted everyone that attended to come away feeling like they learned something.  The trick was going to be how to actually make that happen.

For starters, I have always liked to stack the chips in my favor.  I figured that if I was going to do a successful workshop, I needed to pick a place that I was familiar with because I can only imagine how clumsy I would feel trying to figure out where we were going and where the photographs were as we were there in a group.  I also needed to pick an aspect of photography that would appeal to an audience, and limit the amount of information that I would need to be responsible for teaching.  That meant I needed to hone in on a specific kind of photography.  Taking all of this into consideration, I came up with Hanging Rock as my destination.  Out of everywhere I go, Hanging Rock is probably the most familiar to me.  I’ve been going there since I started photography, and I’ve not only photographed there more times than I can count, I have also camped there many times.  In short, I knew it like the back of my hand.  Hey wait a minute, I never noticed I have five fingers on that hand….I digress.  When it came to subject matter, waterfalls seemed to be a logical choice.  Sure, I could do landscapes in general here, but that would include some pretty sizable hikes and I didn’t want to limit the field of attendees based on severity of the hike.  With waterfalls, I had a set number of destinations that we could go to that totaled seven different waterfalls within the park.  That really sounded like a plan to me.

Now that I had the destination and the subject matter picked out, I needed to figure out how many folks I could take along and manage.  I figured that six would probably be all that I could keep up with and give the proper attention to.  It would also be about all that the different locations would hold without stepping on each other’s toes.  To try and minimize the potential of other park goers, I didn’t want to schedule this in the middle of fall as the park stays full during that time.  I also didn’t want to push it too far into winter as waterfalls are dangerous enough without adding ice or snow to the mix.  Trying to hit that sweet spot, I opted for December 1st.  The date was set back in October, so I had no idea what the weather was going to be like.  I just knew I was going to have to adapt to whatever came my way on that date.

I released the workshop date and sat back to see what would happen.  Surprisingly enough, I started to get a good bit of interest in it and folks were signing up pretty quick.  before I knew it, I had four signed up.  OK, the pressure was really on at this point.  It was real, and there was a good chance that somebody was going to show up and expect me to know something.  As time passed, I had a fifth and a sixth sign up.  That filled up all of the slots and I got to change the status of the workshop to “Sold Out”.  No pressure there.  I sent out a few emails with some further information like when we would be starting and some more specifics on what we would be doing.  I also sent out a questionnaire to the participants to get to know them a little and to find out what they hoped to gain from the workshop.  What I found was there were some attending that had as much or more experience than I did.  Hmmmm, that is a little intimidating to say the least.  There were also a few that were on the other end of the spectrum of experience.  That meant that I was going to need to be rather flexible with what I was going to teach.  I honestly had no idea how this was going to work out, but I was excited about the opportunity.

As we got closer, one of the participants had to bail out due to work commitments and there was another that backed out a couple of days before due to family issues.  It was a bit of a relief since this thing was getting closer and closer and I had no idea how it was going to turn out.  Four participants was sounding much better than six to me by this point.  I had been looking at the weather forecasts as well starting the previous weekend.  Early reports showed partly cloudy skies and mid 50’s for temperatures.  Not perfect, but better than a sunny day.  As the week had started, that forecast changed to rain showers all day, which was not ideal, but workable I suppose.  A couple of days before it looked to be the same temperature, but the rain was pushed to the afternoon with cloudy skies in the morning.  This was about perfect for waterfall photography and that made me really happy.

On the morning of, I woke up in plenty of time to print out maps of the park for everyone and make sure I had the release forms so that I could grab a few pictures and possibly a video of the group.  I was on my way, and arrived right at 7:30 followed in by Lawayne who was the first of the participants to arrive.  We got the introductions out of the way and were joined shortly thereafter by Tony and Bill.  I had worried that nobody would show up for the workshop and here I was looking at three…who showed up early for the workshop.  Shelley was the last to show up, but still early for the hike to begin.  I was passing out the maps and releases and realized my first problem.  I had forgotten the pens that I meant to bring.  Oh well, Lawayne helped me out with that oversight.  I was then faced with another planning snafu.  I had been told that the visitors center and restrooms would be open in December.  Well, they weren’t.  Hmm, that put us slightly behind as pre hike breaks are important.  Upon further evaluation, the visitor’s center didn’t open until 9am.

Well, my planning was already showing two slight glitches, but nothing that couldn’t be recovered from.  At least the weather was looking really good.  We not only had clouds, but there was a nice low fog over the park as well.  The hourly forecast showed that this was going to be the case for about two hours which would give us plenty of time to shoot Window Falls which benefits from the fog in many ways.  The other waterfalls did not benefit as much, so that cemented the order in which we were going to go at it.  We set off into the foggy unknown with our merry group of photographers.  We had some light conversation on the way down to the first of what I hoped to be many waterfalls.  When we got there, we were alone which was perfect.  We got everything set up and found our respective areas to shoot from.  It was here that I started getting a feeling for where everyone really was on the experience scale.

There were some that just grabbed their gear and started with their shots right off.  There were others which needed a bit more attention.  Honestly, I really liked helping those that had some basic questions.  I was able to introduce live view to one participant and show just how beneficial it could be in this type of photography.  I was able to discuss the finer points of exposure with another, and actually introduced Ansel Adams’ concept of zone metering in a way.  I gave a few generic compositional pointers about how the subject often will dictate the orientation of the camera, and how to keep the viewer’s eyes in the frame.  I was actually feeling like this was working.  We had a couple of technical issues with equipment that I was having a difficult time addressing since I am not well versed in all camera models.  Mental note to self, make sure that manuals are brought on these workshops as finding certain menu options can be difficult if I’m not familiar with how to access them.  Two of the technical issues that caused the most problems were lack of charged batteries, and full memory cards.  That is something that I will need to be sure and remind participants of on the next workshop.

Foggy Window
Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8LII, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

Once I made sure that everyone was situated and no more questions were popping up, I decided to give Window Falls a quick shot.  I have shot this one many times, but this time the water flow was just too good to pass up, and the fog was a nice added touch to the composition.  I went ahead and grabbed my Canon 5D Mk3 and added the 24-70mm lens along with my ever popular Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer (use KISER10 for 10% off on this).  It was all mounted to my Manfrotto 055 CXPro3 tripod and Acratech GP Ballhead. and I framed up the shot that I had in mind.  Since I wasn’t here for me, I didn’t worry about doing a lot of different compositions, I just wanted one of this waterfall since it has been a while since I’ve seen it this full of water.  I grabbed three different exposures and compositions to make sure that I had what I wanted.  It was then time to pack up the gear and get ready for the next location.  I made my rounds once again to make sure that everyone was getting everything that they could out of this location.  We discussed visiting the waterfall behind Window Falls, but in the end we opted not to bother with it.  That is probably for the best because the rocks would be extremely slippery and that would make getting up there rather difficult.  Instead we climbed back up the stairs headed to Hidden Falls.  We took the fork and worked our way down to that much smaller waterfall.  I noticed that there were only three behind me by the time we got to the falls.  Something that I said early on was I didn’t want to lose anyone even though I was giving everyone maps.  I asked Shelley what became of Bill and she said that he was going to wait for us.  I went back out to the main trail to check on him but couldn’t find him.  Well, it was looking like I was failing miserably at not losing anyone.  I went back and got a bit more information from Shelley.  Bill had said he was going to wait for us at the car which made me feel better.  I hoped he was OK, but I had to continue on with the workshop.

There were a number of other hikers at this waterfall so we had to wait our turn before getting photographs of it.  Lawayne was first out of the gate to get set up.  He really was in his element here and was just having a blast.  Of particular note, he was shooting only wide angle shots today, and I mean really wide angle.  I don’t think he had anything but an 11mm prime lens on the entire time.  The rest of the group eventually followed suit and started to get in position to shoot this very interesting waterfall.  I spent a good deal of time with Tony here as he was getting a really good composition, but having an issue with the sky blowing out.  This was one of those moments that makes a workshop worthwhile I think.  I asked if he had any ND Grads in his bag and he went to look.  He came back with a screw on ND filter.  This was a great opportunity to discuss the different filters and what they did.  In the end I let him use my Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 2-Stop hard edge ND Grad (use KISER10 to get 10% off on this) to see the difference that it would make with the sky.  Since I didn’t have the mounting hardware needed for his lens, I just hand held it in front of the lens.  He could then bring the waterfall back to proper exposure without blowing the sky out.  That filter made all the difference in the world for that shot.  It was experiences like that which I was excited to have with this workshop.

We didn’t stay at Hidden Falls long since there really wasn’t much to it.  We continued the hike back to the parking lot and unfortunately found no signs of Bill anywhere.  His car was gone, so the assumption was he had left the workshop.  We were also looking at losing another one of our crew due to a battery issue.  That left Lawayne and Tony as the remaining part of the workshop.  This was still more participants than I had expected when I committed to doing the workshop so I was still good to go.  We finished our break and set off on the other side of the parking lot headed to the Upper Cascades.  The fog was still present, but the overall lighting was really good still.  I was really happy with the most uncontrollable part of this experience, and I was thankful that it worked out this way.

The hike was quick and we made it to the waterfall.  Unfortunately when we started down the steps, Tony slipped.  I braced to catch him since he was behind me, but he recovered before running into me.  We made sure he was OK and continued on.  I’m telling you, doing waterfall photography can be rather dangerous in general, but doing it on a wet day like this adds to that danger.  The wooden steps were slimy and very slick.  It is always a great idea to be just a little more cautious when out and about in these conditions as we have all slipped and tripped at some point and time.  There were no more incidents and we made it to the bottom of the waterfall in once piece.  I took a moment to kind of introduce where the compositions were, and what options they had.  Then it was time to let them at it.  Lawayne took to the water first and found the platform that I would typically stand on in order to work his compositions with that 11mm lens.  I saw the angle of view on that thing and it was incredible.  He was having the same issues that Tony had with the sky at Hidden Falls, but there was no way to fit an ND Grad on the front of his lens which was spherical and protruding.

They both tried different compositions, and Tony even went back and got one from the back side of the pool which I had only shot a time or two a long time ago.  He was really getting the hang of it and starting to think outside of the box with his compositions.  This was what I really wanted to see out of this workshop.  Despite losing folks, I was really seeing this as a success, and that was making me happy.  It didn’t even bother me that we were getting rained on at this point.  It wasn’t bad, but enough to be bothersome.  I think it did kind of cut us short a bit here, and we debated about hitting the lower section of this waterfall which would have required a scramble to get down to the base.  We opted to forego that waterfall since it was slick and muddy, and instead go to the Lower Cascades which would be a short road trip around the park.

We hiked back to the cars and made our way to the next waterfall pretty quick.  Lawayne had some commitments at home that was limiting his time this afternoon, so we were only going to have time to shoot this one more waterfall.  I’m glad we got the chance to go here since it was the waterfall that started my love for this type of photography so long ago.  Things have come full circle for me at this point.  Now I was sharing my love for waterfall photography with others here at the same place I taught myself about long exposures.  The hike went really quick and we got into position without much delay.  I pretty much let Lawayne do his thing as I was confident that he had it all under control.  I went over to work with Tony a bit and helped him fine tune some things, but like I said he was really getting the hang of things by this point.  After about 45 minutes we had to call it quits and head back to the cars.  It seemed as though the workshop had gone well for both Tony and Lawayne.  I think that they both got out of the workshop what they had intended on.  There were some things that I wished I had done different, but by the end of it, I was kind of seeing my role in all of this.  I’m really looking forward to my next workshop which will be dealing with Decay Photography at Outlawed Restorations in April.  This is also a free workshop, and will likely be my last free one so everyone might want to jump on it.  I’m limiting this one to six as well just so I can give everyone the attention that I think a workshop deserves.

Quilted Barn
5 Stitched images
Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8LII, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I was satisfied with the workshop, but I had only shot about a dozen images through the day and I was really wanting to do a bit more with the camera.  Something that I had planned on before calling it a day was to shoot the old barn that I had driven past the last two times I’d been out here.  I was thinking that the lighting today was going to be pretty good with the light fog in the air, moist surfaces and warm tones.  I drove the short distance out to the barn and parked at the new section of Hanging Rock.  I grabbed my gear and got set up quickly as I wasn’t sure if I was able to park in the driveway like I was.  I chose the workhorse 24-70mm f/2.8L MkII lens for this barn because I wanted to have a nice open feel to the compositions that I couldn’t get with the longer lens.  Going wider would have included too much of the sky which was rather featureless with the fog present.  I added my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer as well to capitalize on the warm tones as well as removing the glare from the grass and tin roof of the barn (use the code KISER10 at checkout to get 10% off).  I set up just inside of the gate and started to work on compositions.  What I was finding was everything that I was shooting looked like a post card.  That wasn’t what I wanted at all, so I rethought my options.  I decided to try a panorama to make use of a horse ring on the right.  I left the camera horizontal for this, and zoomed into about 50mm.  I leveled the Manfrotto tripod and made a dry run of the pano to check for exposure problems.  When I was happy with that, and the focus was set at the right point, I made a total of five exposures by rotating the Acratech GP ballhead through the full arch of the image.  I was pretty sure that this would work out, but just in case, I decided to work another composition as well.

Matching Gate
Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L MkII, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I backed up basically to the road and zoomed in to 50mm composing an image that captured the open red gate with the white fence behind it as well as the red barn with the white trim.  There was a certain color balance here that I really liked.  If the pano didn’t turn out, I was pretty confident that this image was going to be quite workable.  I even liked how the leaves helped push the interest well into the photograph, but the fence and gate gave purpose to the foreground.  The composition was well-balanced, and one that I really liked.  I had finally shot this old barn after trying so many times.  I might have to come back when the snow comes if at all possible because I can really see this transforming under a blue sky with freshly fallen snow in the foreground.

That pretty much wrapped up my day with the camera.  It was a completely different day than i was used to.  I had been gone since well before sun up and had only shot 27 images.  I had been rained on, and had walked about three miles according to my phone.  It was a good day, and I learned a lot more today about workshops than I had thought I would.  I am really looking forward to my next one, and I would encourage you to get signed up for it as soon as you can since once the six slots are filled, I will close it down.  I’m really expecting it to be an exciting workshop, with a lot of opportunity to learn about automotive photography.

For those, like me that were concerned with what happened to Bill, I did hear from him later on in the evening.  As it turned out, the issues with his memory cards were not quite that simple to fix.  He was having a very hard time saving new pictures to any of the memory cards that he had.  Not knowing if it was a card issue, or a camera issue he chose to call it a day and address the problem.  I had hated to see him go, but I know all to well from personal experience that a persistent glitch will take all of the fun out of an outing and would greatly reduce his ability to learn from the experience.  As he says, this might just be the push he needs to make that upgrade to a newer camera.  That is never a bad thing.