Last spring I had the chance to visit a little known waterfall in West Virginia. I have been down to this location twice before, but the conditions were never right and thus I was unsuccessful in capturing a compelling shot. This waterfall and a series of several others are in Blackwater Falls State Park in the highlands of West Virginia. The park and the surrounding area is a favorite location of mine and one that I have been photographing for over 12 years now. It is in my opinion the supreme landscape location in the Mid Atlantic, and therefore one that I visit often and hold several location workshops at each year. This waterfall however is not one I am able to bring my clients to as it is to steep and dangerous to reach as a group.
Being spring, the water was raging down the falls. I have never seen so much water on the falls before and I could hear its roar as I approached through the woods. Immediately I knew the shot I wanted! I could see that there was a small ledge under the falls and I thought what a unique perspective it could be, but was it going to be possible without killing myself or my equipment was the question? I took a test run, leaving my gear stashed on the side of the falls I carefully inched my way out under the falls getting soaked in the process. The ledge was narrow but just wide enough to accommodate my tripod. Before heading back out with my camera, I made sure to set everything in advance: ISO, F-stop, shutter speed, rotate filter and manually set my focus from a quick account of position and distance from the reconnaissance scout on the ledge. Once everything was ready, I attached the camera to the tripod and covered it with a dry bag and then slowly made my way out.
I set up the tripod and camera making sure not to remove the dry bag until everything was securely positioned. Because the camera was literally snug to the back wall of the ledge, framing through the viewfinder was impossible. No problem, I always use Live View to frame and focus anyway, and it was absolutely essential this time around. Using Live View, I framed the scene, readjusted the focus ever so slightly and tripped the shutter. After reviewing the image I checked the histogram, all was good, but I was not happy with the results of the water. I needed an even faster shutter speed to arrest more detail in the water. I quickly bumped up my ISO from 100 to 250 and adjusted the shutter speed. Took another test shot and was happy with the look of the water this time around. I then made a few small changes to the compositions shifting the camera to the left and the right until my edges of the frame were clean and clear of any obstructions. I wiped the lens down and took the final image. A lot of work for the final shot but absolutely worth all of the effort and risk of damage for a unique view.
Tech details: Nikon D700, 16-35mm, Singh Ray LB Polarizer, Gitzo tripod and Arca Swiss head, 1/4 of a second @ F18, ISO 250
Keep an eye out for my newest eBook, West Virginia Adventures in Light, which explains the making, location and season of 20 of my favorite images from the mountains of West Virginia.
Check out our West Virginia Workshops for 2012: