Monday, March 29, 2010

It's waterfall season

It’s spring in the northern hemisphere. Snow is melting in the mountains, and nearly-April rains are adding to the river flows. A lot of waterfalls are pretty impressive now.

Most people can name a few big waterfalls in their general area. But after you’ve photographed them repeatedly, then what?

There are many, many resources available for finding waterfalls to photograph. Waterfall enthusiasts are a lot like bird lovers. Many spend their time scouring topographical maps, examining the terrain to discover new waterfalls. There are waterfall web sites for virtually any region on Earth, developed by enthusiasts who provide directions and frequently snapshot photos.

You can easily find these waterfall web sites by doing a simple internet search for the name of the region you're interested in and the word "waterfalls." Just keep in mind that many of these sites are the work of waterfall hunters, not nature photographers. A waterfall that appears boring on one of these sites may be gorgeous in a different season, at a different time of day, or with a different composition. Go and explore. You'll never know if you don't go.

With larger waterfalls, a simple internet search can often tell you if the falls is raging or just a trickle. For flood control and other purposes, most major rivers are constantly observed by monitoring equipment. Do an internet search with the name of the river that contains the falls and the word "hydrograph." You’ll get graphs showing whether the river is rising or falling, and, therefore, whether the flow over the falls is increasing or decreasing. Visit your favorite waterfalls several times, comparing your experience to these figures, to get an idea of how the numbers translate into photographic opportunities.

Waterfalls don’t have to be raging, however, to result in good pictures. In fact, some waterfalls are much better with the flow is relatively low. Running Eagle Falls in Montana, also known as Trick Falls, is one such waterfall. Upstream and out of view, part of the river drops into a natural underground tunnel that ends in the middle of the waterfall. In mid-summer, the flow of water from the tunnel is greater than the volume of water coming over the top of the falls, resulting in a waterfall that’s much wider at the bottom than at the top. When the river is running high, the lower falls is hidden completely.

You don't have to go far to find great waterfalls. Even small falls can produce great images. Check maps, web sites and, especially, hiking guidebooks and you can likely find waterfalls to photograph within an hour or two of your home.

The waterfall at the top of this post is from Wallace Falls State Park near Goldbar, Wash., but it’s not of Wallace Falls. While hiking out to the park’s big waterfall, I took a side trail and discovered a gorgeous creek. I like this image even more than I like the image of Wallace Falls itself.

(For more waterfalls, check out the Waterfalls gallery at

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