For me one of the big attractions to Western North Carolina’s mountains are the waterfalls. There’s something special about the sight and sounds these natural wonders provide. Mix in some fall foliage and you have a receipe for real photographic fun. One issue with photographing waterfalls is that in many cases there’s a long hike involved to reach them. This can eat-up time, a precious commodity when one only has a few days to visit the mountains. Of course there are some falls that are more accessible than others. The downside to the ones that are easily reached is that they’re going to get a lot images taken of them. Finding a unique angle or perspective becomes more challenging when shooting popular locations.
In general there are three approaches to photographing a waterfall. One can use a fast shutter speed to freeze the movement of the water. While this can produce some interesting images it’s not a very realistic way of representing a falls. Another method is to use a shutter speed that will allow some blurring of the water, but not too much. In this case you’re probably going to use a shutter speed somewhere between 1/30 and 1/2 second. This results in an image that closely replicates the way the eye inturprets a waterfall. The final technique, and the one most commonly used, produces an image where the water has a blurred, etheral apperance. To achieve this look use shutter speeds of 2 or more seconds. The difficult part of the last method is to avoid over-exposing the image. Typically the lens needs to be stopped-down to the smallest aperature (largest f/stop number) and a polarizing and/or neutral density filter may need to be added to the lens to restrict the amount of light entering the camera.
Here are a few shots from my recent trip to the Great Smoky Mountains. All of these locations are easily and quickly accessed. While I’d like to have visited a few of the less easily visited waterfalls in the area, time was an issue on this trip. Maybe I’ll use that as an excuse to return to the mountains in the spring for some more waterfall photography!