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Hocking Hills State Park is located in the picturesque sandstone region of Ohio about 57 miles southeast of the city of Columbus. It’s an area of rock outcrops, deep recess gorges and caves, waterfalls, forest and wildflowers. Six different natural areas make up the park—Old Man’s Cave, Ash Cave, Cedar Falls, Cantwell Cliffs, Rock House and Lake Logan. Old Man’s Cave, which derives its name from a hermit who lived in the large recess cave of this gorge, is my favorite of these areas. It’s located on State Route 664 near Logan, Ohio, in a half-mile-long gorge that cuts through 150 feet of Black Hand sandstone. Having lived in Indiana my whole life, I was shocked to find a place of such natural beauty just a few hours’ drive from home, and I totally agree with the Hocking Hills slogan: “Close to home, a million miles from ho-hum.”
Each changing season brings something different to photograph. Frequent rain in spring and fall fills the waterfalls; in fact, I took this picture in June 2010 after a few days of rainfall. Temperatures in these seasons range from 30º to 60° F. Summer temperatures in Hocking Hills remain slightly cooler than the surrounding area at 50º to 85° F, while being cooler in the evenings and in the gorges, and the shaded areas and trails. Winter can be quite cold, with snow and partially frozen waterfalls.
When looking to photograph wildlife, I take my Sony 70-400mm ƒ/4-5.6 G SSM lens. It allows me to zoom in close to the wildlife while still giving me compositional flexibility for flora, landscapes and waterfalls. For close-up macro shots of the abundant wildflowers, I use a Sony 100mm ƒ/2.8 macro lens with a magnification ratio of 1:1 for large, lifelike images. For scenics like this one, I use a Sony DSLR-A900 with a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 ZA SSM lens, enabling me to frame a wide-angle view from river beds or points near the falls. I also use a Sony Zeiss circular polarizing 77mm filter for controlling reflections on the water and saturation of colors in the often misty areas. A cable release helps to keep images sharp during long exposures when I want to use effects like motion blur on the falls.
Morning in late spring or early summer is the best time for photography. After some overnight rain, I took this picture somewhat early in the morning. The moisture in the air allows you to capture the light as it’s filtered through the tree canopy. My wife and I were the only ones at Old Man’s Cave, and as the sun rose over the hills and the light streamed down through the trees, it was a magical moment. Spring is the time for anyone interested in native wildflowers. While fall brings an explosion of color in the autumn leaves, some may prefer the starkness of winter and the spectacular frozen sculptures of waterfalls. If you’d like to plan ahead for next year, a 24-hour photo competition called Shoot the Hills is held the third weekend of April each year at the park.