Smokey Mountain Waterfalls: Cherokee & Bryson City, NC

I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Western North Carolina in the Smokey Mountains. Anytime I’m in that area waterfalls are at the top of my “to do list.” I set-up camp in the Deep Creek area of the Great Smokely Mountains National Park and used that as my base of operations. Located outside of Bryson City there are three waterfalls that are a short hike from the Deep Creek parking area: Tom Branch Falls, Indian Creek Falls, and Juney Whank Falls. All three are well worth a visit and are easy enough to access for the entire family to enjoy. A short drive from Bryson City there are several waterfalls to be found around Cherokee, North Carolina. Two of my favorites are Mingo Falls and Soco Falls. Both are short hikes either up or down a set of steps. Soco Falls, however, doesn’t have easy access to the base of the falls. In fact one needs to either be a mountain goat or have some climbing skills to safely reach it and return to the marked trail.

There are many fine photographers that specialize in waterfalls photography. Living on the coast, I’m not one of them. The problem is to build competence one needs to be able to shoot, analyze the results, consult with other photographers and re-shoot frequently. This is an approach that allows one to grow and improve at a specific discipline. With the mountains and waterfalls being several hours away it’s just not a practical approach for me. For me I have to depend on the occassional opportunity and studying the writings and work of others to try to learn.

One of the problems with photographing waterfalls is one common with most popular landscapes and monuments; they’ve been photographed countless times before. Finding a combination of angle, lens, lighting and post processing that will be unique is nearly impossible. On this trip I wanted to emphasize wider angles than I’m used to seeing used. While this results in the falls being a smaller part of the image in many cases, it also allows incorporation of more of the surrounding environment, inclussion of foreground and background objects and use of environmental objects as leading lines and visual anchors in the composition. Where exposure is concerned there are three distinct schools of thought. 1) A fast shutter speed to freeze the action of the water. 2) A moderately slow shutter speed to allow some blurring of the falling water… a technique that argueably results in an image closely represntative of how the eye preceives falls. 3) Use of a very slow shutter speed to create a soft, eretheal look to the falling water. This seems to be the most popular approach these days.

So enough ramblings on my part. On to the photos. I hope you enjoy them.

Tom Branch Falls flows into Deep Creek near Bryson City, NC

Mingo Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the Great Smokely Mountains

A horizontal composition of Mingo Falls, Cherokee, North Carolina

Access to Soco Falls is from a pull-out along highway 19 outside of Cherokee, NC

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