“Foster Falls” by Robin Conover Canon EOS 5D Mark IV EF 24–70 mm, 2.8 L lens at 24 mm ISO 100, fl22 at 0.5 seconds, Gitzo tripod
Photographing a waterfall offers a set of challenges that break some of my favorite rules for nature photography. For instance, the best light for this subject is probably not during the prized hours of golden light early in the morning and late in the afternoon. You see, most waterfalls in Tennessee lie deep within river gorges, the walls of which will block the lowly angled light of sunrise and sunset.
South Cumberland State Park is home to several beautiful waterfalls. I recently decided to check out one of them — Foster Falls.
Several days of rain brought some flooding to the area, so I planned my shoot for a couple of days after the rain stopped. Keeping an eye on the weather and water levels is extremely important if you plan to hike any river gorge or waterfall. Flash floods can be deadly, coming very quickly.
In this shot, the water level was still up, making the falls full. The midday sunlight was occasionally filtering through a mostly cloudy sky. As the clouds moved, the scene fluctuated between full sun with a very contrasty light to partly cloudy, which rendered a much more even light across the scene.
Because of the low light level at the base of the falls, I secured my camera to the tripod near the edge of the plunge pool. I attached a circular polarizer filter to the lens. This filter is a must to cut out glare on the water and help to saturate colors. I tried several exposures from 1
/30 of a second to 1 second. A half-second exposure seemed to work the best to capture the amount of water flowing with some detail.
With the arrival of spring later this month, warmer temperatures and rain will combine to make perfect conditions to take a hike and photograph waterfalls. Please take note, though, that not all “easy to moderate” trails are equal, as I learned about Foster Falls. While most trail descriptions say this short hike is that way, I would add “to difficult” if it’s wet.
The first section from the parking lot to the overlook is flat and easy. My descent to the falls, carrying camera gear and a tripod, was not easy. I slowly made it to the bottom, carefully taking one step at a time on the slippery rocks, questioning my choice of an “easy” Sunday afternoon hike with each step.
After 15 minutes, the trail evened out, and the falls came into view through the hemlock trees. At this point, I knew the hike was well worth the effort before I ever got my camera out of the bag.