Letchworth State Park, New York

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Commonly referred to as the Grand Canyon of the East, Letchworth State Park is located about 35 miles southwest of Rochester, New York. With 66 miles of hiking trails, the park measures roughly 17 miles in length, spanning more than 14,000 acres alongside the Genesee River. A significant gorge that’s formed by the Genesee is the reason that Letchworth gets its nickname, with gorge walls as high as 550 feet, three major falls (Upper, Middle and Lower Falls) and as many as 50 smaller falls that flow into the river. With a drop of 350 feet, Inspiration Falls, also located within the Letchworth, is the highest waterfall in New York; however, it only flows heavily during or after plentiful rain. A paved road on the west side of the gorge with many scenic vistas allows for some great photo opportunities, and the park is also home to a variety of campsites, historic buildings and museums. Areas are set aside for horseback riding, whitewater rafting, biking and winter activities like snowmobiling and skiing. Letchworth State Park is a treasure of the Finger Lakes Region.

The park remains open year-round, but some entrances and trails are closed during the winter months as the area receives some of the heaviest snowfalls in the nation even though January temperatures average above 22º F. Summer temperatures average 72º F, with daytime temperatures becoming much warmer during July. The maximum average precipitation occurs in September, ideal for photographing waterfalls. Fall temperatures can average around 50º F, but expect the park to be much colder early in the morning.

Photo Experience
When working with waterfalls, a wide-angle lens is essential for the magnificent views, while a 200mm to 300mm telephoto helps to isolate some of the unique features in the landscape. An ND filter is beneficial for artistic motion blurs when working with the falls and rivers, and I bring along a polarizer for controlling reflections on the water and for emphasizing the colors of fall foliage. I carry a tripod and cable release for the most sharpness, and it’s a good idea to carry rain gear during fall and spring.

Best Times
A great time for photographing waterfalls and streams is during a light rain, but right after is the absolutely best time to snap beautiful shots of the plentiful running waterfalls and the saturated colors of the area. The best season to visit the park is in the fall, when the foliage is phenomenal. The Great Bend area, where this image was taken, is my favorite place for sunrises. After you capture a great sunrise, you’ll want to further explore the park. Wolf Creek, Inspiration Point and the three major falls are a must, but don’t limit yourself to these sites. If it’s raining, be sure to take advantage of all the streams and waterfalls the area has to offer. Weekends during fall and summer get very crowded, but the park can be a great place to shoot in winter.

Contact: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, www.nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/79/details.aspx.

Essential Gear
Neutral-density (ND) filters give you further control over your exposures by reducing the amount of light that’s entering the lens. Particularly useful for working with subjects that involve moving water, like waterfalls or streams, ND filters allow you to use slower shutter speeds for longer exposures and smaller apertures for more extended depth of field when situations are too bright. Slower shutter speeds can be used for more artistic interpretations of a scene to produce effects like motion blur. When you need the ultimate control, variable ND filters are single filters that can be affixed to your lens for multiple stops of added density that can be controlled just by twisting the filter.