Photography during the winter months here in the Blue Ridge Mountains is a challenge. It's been an unusually warm winter; and when there is no snow, I'm left trying to squeeze out exposures of brown forest floor and grey tree trunks. Not the most appealing of subjects. We've only had one major snow this season. Couple the lack of snow, which helps to simplify nature scenes, with the fact that the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed most of the winter, and photography becomes extra challenging. Elusive wildlife and waterfall scenes, generally developed as black and whites, are about all that there is to shoot. More than ever, I'm excited for summer.
Despite the challenges of warm-winter photography here in Appalachia, I've been able to capture a few scenes that I'm happy with. My favorite being an image of sunset over Elk River Falls - a notoriously difficult subject. I've never been able to capture a good scene there in all the years I've visited the huge waterfall. Desperate for something better than black and white winter forest scenes, I drove out to Elk River without a camera to scout potential compositions and to find out where the sun sets around the waterfall this time of year. In the summer, the sun sets to the far side of the falls and lights one side, casting the other in dark shadow. This makes getting an even exposure difficult. It also means the colors of sunset are hidden behind trees. On my scouting trip, I found that the sun sets directly behind the falls this time of year. That means that once the sun has completely gone over the horizon, the colors will light up the sky right above the falls. I returned the next evening.
Unlike the previous day, I was the only person there on the evening of my shoot at Elk River Falls. I arrived knowing exactly how I wanted to shoot it - I just needed to work out a composition or two. I used a polarizer to help saturate colors and remove glare on the water and used a 3-stop ND grad filter to even out the exposure. The foreground was significantly darker than the sky above, so the ND grad worked perfectly. This image was a lot of physical work! I wasn't happy with the traditional up-close-head-on view of the falls because there was no foreground interest. So, I decided, just as the pinkish hues of sunset were lighting up the sky, to clamber over a dotted line of huge boulders that stuck up out of the deep river. With my tripod fully extended and used as a walking stick, I hopped and crawled my way out into the middle of the river and onto a car-size boulder that was sloped at 45 degrees. I set up my wet tripod (which was very wet from being plunged into the water to find stability) and balanced myself precariously. The ideal spot would have been a few more feet over, but there were no more "stepping stones," just 6 foot deep rushing rapids. My slanted boulder would have to do. I made several exposures and in near complete darkness managed to get back onto the bank without getting myself or any of my gear wet except for the tripod. Success!
The resulting images are the only ones I've seen of Elk River Falls from that perspective (as of this writing). It's a bit of an accomplishment. I've finally got my good image of Elk River Falls and managed to get a shot that no one else has, which is a big deal in the 21st century.
(c) Jon Reaves Photography. All rights reserved.