Silver Falls State Park and Tips on Waterfall Photography

Today was a vacation day for me.  It had been several years since my last jaunt to Silver Falls State Park.  It was time for a revisit.  The venue is located about an hour and a half southeast of Portland.  One of the largest parks in Oregon, Silver Falls State Park is home to ten gorgeous waterfalls.  Fall and spring are probably the best times to visit, as summer can attract a lot of foot traffic.

The day was overcast with light drizzle, perfect for waterfall and forest photography.  I left home at 6 am, grabbed a quick bite at McDonalds, and was at the park by 10:30.  I left my car at the North Fall parking area and did a relatively easy 3 1/2 mile loop that took me to Upper North Fall, North Fall, and Winter Fall.  I came across very few people and took my time enjoying the hike and views.  I don’t think I captured anything spectacular, but today was more about the journey and hike.  I stopped over in Portland and had dinner before heading back to Seattle.  By 8 PM I was downloading and post-processing the images from the day.

Here are a few tips and personal preferences for waterfall photography:

  • I love overcast days for waterfalls, as the light is diffused, with no harsh shadows or overly bright sunlit areas.
  • If at all possible, I try to not include a lot of sky in my images, as gray skies are dull, uninteresting, and often show up as bright, overexposed areas in my pictures.
  • My favorite shutter speed for waterfalls is between 1/4 and 3/4 second.  Any slower, the water looks too much like shaving cream for my taste.  Any faster than 1/4 second, and the water isn’t blurry enough.  This is all personal preference, of course.
  • I like to use a polarizer when shooting waterfalls, because it significantly reduce glare from things such as water surface and wet leaves.
  • Because you’re working with such slow shutter speeds, a tripod is a must.  Don’t be lazy; carry a tripod.  I also recommend using a cable release and enabling mirror lock-up if your camera has the feature.
  • Proper exposure can be tricky, as waterfalls are very white while the surround foliage, rocks, etc. are much darker.  I always exposure bracket my shots about 1 to 1 1/2 stops on either side of 0.  I then combine the exposures later in post-processing to get the perfect balance between highlight and shadow detail.  In the near future, I’ll write a tutorial describing how I do this.
  • I often find myself getting very close to waterfalls, and keeping my equipment (especially the front of the lens) free of water droplets is a real challenge.  I carry a small lens cloth which I use to wipe down the front of the lens (or polarizing filter if you have it on) between exposures.  The trick is to have everything set up (eg, composition, f-stop/shutter speed/ISO values) first.  Then wipe down the lens and snap the image (or bracketed images).  A lens hood helps, as does a portable umbrella.

Here are a few shots from today’s trip.

Panasonic GF-1, Panasonic 14-45 f/3.5-5.6 lens, 26mm (52mm equivalent), f/18, (2/3 and 1 1/3 sec exposures), ISO 100

Panasonic GF-1, Panasonic 14-45 f/3.5-5.6 lens, 23mm (46mm equivalent) f/8, 8 sec, ISO 100

Panasonic GF-1, Panasonic 45-200 f/4.5-5.6 lens, 132mm (264mm equivalent), f/8, 1/13 sec, ISO 100

4 Comments
  • Michael Rupp
    March 17, 2010

    Mahesh, this is great! I am trying to learn how to do photograph. Where did you learn?

    • Mahesh
      March 17, 2010

      Hi ya, Mike! Great to hear from you, and thanks for the kind words. I’m what you call a self-taught man. :D I’ve had no formal training, but I have spent countless hours on the internet studying great photographs and reading articles on photography and photoshop. I also participate in several photography forums on the web. Some great ones include dpreview.com, fredmiranda.com, and dgrin.com.

  • Deborah
    March 17, 2010

    Great forest shot! Those are some of the hardest subjects to pull off from being so busy, but you’ve got a great s-curve path that leads the eye right in. Makes me want to ditch work
    and go for a hike in the rain.

    • Mahesh
      March 18, 2010

      Thanks, Deb! This was my favorite shot of the day. This morning I looked back on all the forest shots I’ve taken, and I think I like this one the best. Part of it is how beautifully greens turned out. In my other shots, they don’t seem to be as vibrant. Anywho, glad you liked the image. :D

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