One of the most interesting parts of being a nature photographer is the act of using the camera to take control of nature for a split second in time. Or, in the case of waterfalls, 1/25 of a second (or thereabouts, depending). Many of us use a combination of equipment and post production technique to bring our own perspective of the natural world into our collections. Here in New Hampshire, that natural world I speak of is starting to get very, very green. It’s great for the spirit, and a welcome sight for me and my lenses.
Even through spring has completely “sprung” in Southern New Hampshire, it’s still slowly coming along here in the White Mountains. In the past two weeks, we’ve experienced temperatures in the low 20’s at night, and the mercury has struggled to climb into the mid 40’s during the day (we’ve also seen a couple of days in the high 70’s, but that’s besides the point). The emerald spring foliage that the high hills are known for needs rain and warm weather to really start to pop; both are just now beginning to take place. However, I can assuredly say that within the next week or so, “Stick Season” will essentially be over. That means that waterfalls and wildflowers are on everyone’s mind.
Cabin Fever and The Waterfall Problem
With respect to New Hampshire’s waterfalls, one mistake that many photographers and enthusiasts make is researching too early (thanks mostly to cabin fever) and therefore getting into the field too early. Bare branches do not lend themselves to creating a lovely spring waterfall scene, and a little patience goes a long way. By and large, this patience also helps with overcoming a second side effect of an early waterfall adventure — too much water due to late winter/early spring runoff. With shutter speeds of a quarter second and up, a massive amount of water can cause blown-out highlights within your composition.
Just a Few Words on Technique and Equipment
When the time is right, that is, when you are ready and the falls are ready, there are some widely accepted principles that tend to work well in waterfall photography. While these tips might be an insult to the advanced photographer’s intelligence, they will help to get the novice up and running for their first successful waterfall shots. For starters, always bring a tripod. Also plan on getting it wet. You simply cannot handhold a camera at the shutter speeds needed to produce a silky and majestic look to your waterfall composition. And when I discuss composition, you’ll understand why it’s important to plan for a moderate soaking.
Consider a filter or two. A polarizer is always a safe bet since it will help you to take the glare off the water and wet trees and rocks. A neutral density filter will let you get a lot more drag out of your shutter. Stacking is okay, just play with it and find the desired effect.
Pictures that contain a flowing body of water tend to look better when the water appears to “flow through” the image. Therefore, it is necessary at times to be in the stream of water when taking your shot. You will need to keep your own safety (and the safety of your camera) front of mind, but don’t rule out the possibility of getting your feet wet.
My Gift to You – Three NH Waterfalls to Capture
New Hampshire has over 70 waterfalls of varying sizes and types. Some are easier to shoot than others, and some are easier to get to than others. I have personally hiked over 8 miles just to get to a particular falls that I wanted to photograph, and the planning and time that goes into that kind of shoot is a big commitment. There are three in particular that I like to recommend to folks who are looking for a big payoff without a long backpacking journey. And the best part of all, they can all be seen in less than half a day since they’re bundled within a 1.5 mile radius in Pinkham Notch!
Crystal Cascade – 10 minute walk up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. Horsetail in type. Absolutely incredible in the spring (and the fall)!
Glen Ellis Falls – 7 minute walk down the trail at the Glen Ellis Falls parking area. Plunge in type, and known for getting even distant onlookers a little wet.
Thompson Falls – about a 1 mile hike from the parking lot at the Wildcat Ski Area. A deeper-woods commitment, but quite a spectacle. Cascade in type.
Entire books have been written on this topic alone, so trust me when I say that I could go on and on. Hopefully you have tamed your early lust for waterfalls, and you’re now ready to get out and capture some images the way that New Hampshire’s landscapes intend for them to be captured.
~ Matt Stearns
Matt Stearns is a freelance photographer and writer based in the Southern White Mountains of New Hampshire. His work is focused on the artistic interpretation of New Hampshire’s high peaks and surrounding waters. Discover his work online at matthewstearns.com.