“Detail of Panther Creek Falls” by Michel Hersen

Surreal nature photograph of Panther Creek Falls in Columbia River Gorge, Washington, with moss trees and waterfalls

“Detail of Panther Creek Falls” by Michel Hersen


Panther Creek Falls is a complicated waterfall structurally that plunges over two steps to the valley floor from 69 to 102 feet. Albeit one of the most impressive waterfalls in the Northwest in the Columbia Gorge in Washington, for some reason it is not well known to the general public, perhaps because of its remote location in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It’s off the proverbial beaten path, but it is accessible via car on a well paved forest road north of Carson, Washington, with a 500 foot long narrow trail leading down to a very nicely constructed viewing platform.

Upon gazing at these falls, one is impressed with the twists and turns of the creek flowing to the top with both large and small streams of water plunging to the bottom in tiered fashion. Other photographers who have visited the falls recommend using a wide angle lens to capture the entirety of this natural wonder. As is the case with waterfalls, it also is recommended that one arrive early in the morning to maximize chances for even light distribution.

Heeding the aforementioned suggestions, my wife and I reached the falls early in the morning and brought along two Nikon D7100 camera bodies: one with a Nikkor 12-24 mm wide angle lens and the other with a Nikkor 18-200 mm zoom for greater flexibility. Overwhelmed with the beauty of the spectacle before me, I started taking traditional wide angle shots to document the expansiveness of this geological wonder. I did so for about 90 minutes considering a whole host of possibilities. But then I noticed that the light was changing and that the sun was creating large contrasts in the landscape. At that point, I began zooming in with my 18-200 mm lens to capture smaller details of the falls. For a very brief moment, I noticed the sun shining through a thin veil of water highlighting heavily moss-covered rocks and logs, with the middle shaft of water beautifully illuminated. Both from a compositional standpoint and from a lighting perspective, the resulting image was imbued with mysticism of the Zen variety. I kept on taking photographs of this small detail, but that momentary mystical light was gone. Only one of the shots truly captured the experience, and this is the one.

What does this encounter tell me as a photographer? First, don’t be deterred by changing lighting conditions. Keep an open mind (and eyes) and look for possibilities. As a Native American guide once said to me when I bemoaned the changing weather pattern: “We will find the pictures.” Secondly, pay attention to the micro as well as the macro. Go beyond the obvious. Thirdly, come well-prepared and be quick about it. Some moments in nature are so fleeting that they are gone in the blink of an eye. And, indeed, as was the case here, they will not repeat themselves.

As to technical details, the present photo was taken May 31st, 2014, with a Nikon D7100 and a Nikkor Zoom Lens (18-200mm). I used a Hoya Circular Polarizer to cut out the glare, with all attached to a Gitzo tripod and Arca-Swiss head. Since apparently my settings were good, very little postprocessing work in Photoshop was required other than minor color correction and enhancement. – Michel Hersen

This image is available as a print by contacting Hersen. See more of his work at www.photographybymichel.net.

Equipment and settings: Nikon D7100, AF-S DX Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II telephoto zoom lens, Hoya Circular Polarizer, Gitzo tripod, Arca-Swiss ballhead – Focal length at 200mm – 1/2 second @ f/20 – ISO 200