We're heading toward the end of October and there is a lot of color activity going on around western North Carolina. Colors seem to be changing later this year likely due to the unusual warm weather we had in September and early October. But colors and quickly appearing and disappearing too.
Around the Hendersonville and Brevard area, the colors have peaked and after some heavy rains today, the trees may have lost a lost of their leaves. I was around the Looking Glass Falls area just yesterday, see image below, and I couldn't believe how fast the leaves were dropping.
Started my day at Hooker Falls in the DuPont State Forest and colors were very nice there. But don't think they will last much longer.
My next stop in DuPont was Triple Falls. Colors appeared to be near or at peak.
I'm heading up to Linville Falls tomorrow. I have seen photos and the colors appear to be reaching peak around the falls right now. The Linville Gorge itself is still pretty green at the moment.
I was around the Linn Cove Viaduct this past Sunday and the colors weren't great, plus it was super windy. We continued a bit north to Rough Ridge to photograph the bridge and the colors looked poor and beyond peak. Further north we stopped at the Boone Fork turnoff to photograph the bridge. Amazingly, the colors looked pretty good but the water levels were very low.
Further west around Cashiers and Highlands, colors were just getting started, at peak, or past peak. Whitewater Falls was just starting to get colors and I may revisit there Friday. Dry Falls was close to peak.
Finally, my understanding is that the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is at peak for the highest elevations near Clingman's Dome. Lower elevations are just getting started.
I'll try to post shortly once I get back from far western North Carolina and the Smoky's. Rain is in our forecast beginning Sunday through most of the extended forecast. Enjoy autumn's show!!
A friend and I took a ride up to the northern section of the Blue Ridge Parkway on Oct. 1st. We started at Linville Falls and walked to the Gorge Overlook. There was barely any evidence of colors changing at that time. As we rode north on the Parkway, there were some leaves with nice color but it was not common place. Next stop was Beacon Heights. No apparent color from the top there either. We ended the day at Price Lake and ran into just the slightest hint of the start of some colors. A friend recently posted a shot from the Cowee Overlook which is south of Graveyard Fields. There was some autumn colors in the valley, which surprised me.
The other disappointing element is the much reduced level of water around western North Carolina. Hooker Falls in the DuPont State Forest area has very low flow as of yesterday. Linville Falls looked good however. The creek flowing below the bridges at Rough Ridge and the Boone Fork Trail are barely flowing. We are finally get some light rain today but I don't think it will be enough to juice up water levels.
I'm planning on another tour of the area on 10/16 and will report my findings.
Well, we were told it was going to happen and today I found out that it's happened. The new owners have shut down Eastatoe Falls. I went there this morning hoping for one more chance to photograph this beautiful waterfall. But instead I was greeted with this "friendly" notice. I fully understand the owners have the right to do with their property what they like. But it just seems to me this sign sort of pokes us in the eye. New Rules....really? I think they could have said something like they couldn't accept the liability risk or anything else. I just didn't care for this sign.
I was lucky enough to visit this lovely waterfall probably 20+ times so I've had my opportunities. I feel bad that many people will try to visit only to be disappointed for not getting their chance.
Eastatoe Falls - I bid you adieu.
I'm sad to report that access to Eastatoe Falls will soon, if not already, be stopped. Good sources report that the current owner has sold the property. Unfortunately, the new owner has said they will not allow visitors on the property. This is very disappointing news but was likely to happen eventually as the current owner was getting older.
I am aware that the Nature Conservancy had offered to purchase the property some time ago but the owner wanted too high of a price for the property.
Eastatoe Falls was perhaps the most beautiful of all the North Carolina waterfalls. I have visited the waterfall likely more than 20 times in the past four years. It presented so many photographic compositions and moods that being there was always a joy.
If you want to still photograph it, you better do it quickly. Here is what we'll be missing.
If you are new to digital photography or just can't get out of using Auto mode or need some in the field instruction, please contact me for private lessons. There is no better way to learn than from personal one-on-one instruction. Yes, YouTube has great material, but I guarantee I will advance your photography knowledge much faster than watching videos. I'll help you set up your camera menus to get the best results. If needed, I can cover all the basic photography terms you will need to understand, such as;
For those wanting more advanced instruction, I will help you understand, for example;
If all you want is help finding the best locations to shoot in western North Carolina, I can get you into some prime locations. Whether it be one of the hundreds of waterfalls we have to the grand landscapes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I will get you there at the right time to capture beautiful photographs.
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It's been about two years since my last visit to Linville Falls and I've really missed it. It's often featured in many publications where there is a reference to North Carolina waterfalls. As you can see in the photos that follow, it's very understandable. It's simply gorgeous.
To find Linville Falls, go to Milepost 316.5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is about a mile north of US221. There are two primary hiking trails from the Visitor Center. If you take the trail to the right it will take you up to a few overlooks. The first is an overlook from the top of the waterfall. Interesting but not really photogenic. Up the hill a bit further is Erwins View, about .90 miles from the Visitor Center and is a steady moderate hike. From Erwins View, you can see Linville Falls from quite a distance. In my opinion, it's not the best photo opportunity but provides a great view of the Linville Gorge.
The best views of the falls are by taking the hiking trails to the left of the Visitors Center; the Plunge Basin Overlook or the Plunge Basin Trail. The Plunge Basin Overlook hike is just under 0.6 miles and is a moderately easy hike. The photos below was taken from the overlook while the Carolina Rhododendrons were in bloom.
The Plunge Basin Trail veers off to the left at about 0.3 miles and is a fairly difficult hike with steep grades with lots of roots and rocks. An ankle buster for sure. But if you're careful, it should not present a problem to the physically fit. Once at the bottom, head to the right to get great views of the falls. Getting close to the base of the falls can be a bit of challenge requiring crawling on rocks and using fallen logs as a footbridge. During high water, do not attempt getting close to the base. Swift currents could easily drag you downstream from the extremely slippery rocks. On this visit, I also had to be careful going across uneven rocks with lots of loose slippery sand on them.
On this recent visit we were greeted with the trifecta of perfect conditions, i.e., cloudy skies, calm winds and no people. It doesn't get much better. There are many interesting photo compositions possible of the falls from down in the gorge. Here are a few of my favorite photos from my visit. My plan is to go back in autumn if I can time the changing leaves correctly.
But if you have never seen Linville Falls, it's one to definitely put on your waterfall hiking list. You'll love it.
If you enjoy fishing, this a great place to fish. My hiking partner brought along his fishing pole and some worms. When he was done shooting he fished and in just a little while had caught 16 of different varieties including a nice trout.
Finally visited Isaqueena Falls for the first time. What a beautiful waterfall! As you can see from the photograph below, it has numerous possible compositions. You will find many lenses handy to have with you when you visit. Primarily a super wide angle lens of at least 16mm on a full frame camera would be the most useful. Then a 24-120mm midrange as well as up to a 300mm telephoto lens to capture isolation shots. Be careful when changing lenses as the falls generate some spray and breeze.
Isaqueena Falls is located just outside Walhalla, SC in the Stumphouse Tunnel Park. Please search the web for directions.
There is a very short walk to an observation deck, where this photo was taken. If you're more adventurous and sure footed, there is a steep path off to the right of the deck. The footing is very poor requiring you to grab unto any rock, root or tree limb you can. Use caution should you chose to go down to the base. Be very careful to avoid all the poison ivy that is everywhere. Getting up seemed to be much easier than going down. Additionally, be very careful at the base. The rocks can be slippery and there are places where you could easily fall off a sharp drop with the falls.
Since this waterfall has open sun on it, visit it on a very cloudy day. My friend and I arrived there around 5:30pm and got to the base around 6pm (we were taking our time getting some shots along the way). Even on a sunny evening in mid-May, the sun was low enough behind the trees that the light on the falls was very soft and even. We had to rush a bit as we only had 45-60 minutes to shoot. The park closes at 8pm. And even at that hour, there were still plenty of people arriving.
Legend has it that the falls is named for an Indian maiden, Issaqueena, who warning the white settlers of an Indian attack, was then chased by Indians and she appeared to jump over the falls. By actually hiding behind the falls (or some legend-tellers say she hid behind a stump, hence Stumphouse Tunnel), she tricked her pursuers and survived. (credit http://www.oconeecountry.com/stumphouse.html).
If you love waterfalls, you definitely have to put this one high on your list.
Spruce Flats Falls is a waterfall I've wanted to visit for a long time. Now I know why. It's wonderful and is a photographic treasure. Spruce Flats Falls is located in the Tremont area of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The trailhead is located at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute. The hike is moderately difficult and is 3/4 miles one-way. The trail in is mostly uphill with many rocks and roots to contend with. Once you near the falls, you have a short steep descent to the waterfall.
The falls are stunning and are best seen with moderate water flow. I wouldn't go if its been dry or exceedingly wet for a while. Go on a cloudy day with little to no wind as there is a large tree branch overhanging the falls.
There are many photographic compositional opportunities present. If you are careful you can move around without too much trouble to get close-up shots near the falls or farther back to take in everything. There are also some dropping cascades just in front of the photo below. Take your time and scout around. Allow plenty of time to enjoy the falls.
The Carolina Rhododendrons bloomed about ten days early on Hawksbill Mountain and the Chimneys, which overlooks the Linville Gorge. A friend told me about them otherwise I would have hiked up there for nothing. Whew!! If you've not seen them before, it's well worth the difficult hike.
While I've been up to Hawksbill Mountain several times, I had my first visit to The Chimneys. This was a really interesting location. From the Hawksbill trailhead, just continue down the road about 7 more miles. It will seem pretty long given you're on a rugged gravel road most of the way. You end up at the trailhead for Table Rock. The trail for the Chimneys is in the opposite direction. To get to the Chimneys area takes about 3/4 mile moderate trail. Be careful here too as there are sheer drops in many locations. The Chimneys are known for their unique rock formations with pillars of rock jutting out into the gorge.
NOTE: Please be aware that the trail up Hawksbill Mountain is less than a mile but is very steep. The top of Hawksbill can be very dangerous as there are sheer drops all over the top. Do not get too close to the edge, especially if the rocks are wet. Keep your gear secured as well.
Just came from a photo outing to Mouse Creek Falls. The trail head is near the TN / NC border off I-40. Directions to the trailhead are easily found on the internet.
If you want to get some outstanding photo ops, try to get there soon while the new leaf growth is still coming in. The lightness of the leaves are just effervescent and vibrant. Water flow is excellent.
On this day, we truly lucked out. We had the place to ourselves, little wind, cloudy skies, and good (actually a tad hard for my taste) water flow.
The hike to Mouse Creek Falls is about 2.1 miles one-way. The trail is uphill the entire way but it is moderate. But when carrying a camera back weighing about 25 lbs., it can get a bit heavy. But the hike is well worth it. For most of the way, you'll hear the sound of rushing water paralleling the route. At several places along the way after getting to the one mile mark, you'll have the opportunity to go off trail and get some excellent photos of the stream and its many cascades, see below for an example.
While it may not look like it, I did very little processing on this photo. The colors and vibrance of the trees were very close to this. The light was really amazing. It just draws you deep into the photo.
I'll be adding photos shortly of Mouse Creek Falls shortly so please stop back.
When I first started in photography in 2012, I didn't have a clue what I was doing. I didn't know anyone who knew anything about photography and I was pretty much on my own. This likely isn't much different from most people getting started in photography. There were so many questions; what equipment to buy, how to use my camera, what do all those buttons and dials mean, and how to make sense of all of those menu items to name just a few. But after countless YouTube videos and video lessons on Adorama.com, I slowly began to learn and practiced a lot.
My primary photographic interest was with landscapes. Four years ago, we retired to western North Carolina and I was immersed in the region's beautiful scenery, especially all of its stunning waterfalls. I've taken thousands of photos and while I'm far from an expert, I have improved my landscape photography.
But I'm mostly a fair weather photographer. Yeah, yeah, I know the best photographs are often found in less than desirable weather. I do get out in lousy weather at times but in the heat of summer or the cold of winter, I often can't motivate myself to get out. We've endured droughts where waterfalls have turned into a mere trickle and flooding rains where they turn into muddy torrents. So there are periods of time when I want to photograph but my normal landscape options are limited.
For those times when getting outside may not be an option, I was looking for another photographic avenue to pursue. I watched a ton of videos and really started to like still life photography including food photography. The creativity of it and the challenge of having total control of all aspects of the shoot appealed to me. But man, this is not simple. Lighting, staging, styling, composition are all up to the photographer. You're in control. You don't have to worry (most of the time) where the sun is, the wind or having people walk into your composition. But if you mess up, you did it.
Early on when I didn't know what I was doing, I bought a Nikon SB-600 speedlight. I thought I'd use it mostly for indoor family gathering times and group shots. But I had no idea on how to really use it. I never found a good source of flash education. Yeah, I bought some books and a DVD course but they didn't help much as they seemed too advanced for me. YouTube videos also seemed hard to use as they weren't about my specific flash unit. Later on I also learned that all speedlights don't all produce the same amount of light. In the end, I never used it all that much.
Later on, I made some DYI lights using clamp lights from the hardware store hung on makeshift light stands. But the results weren't all that great. In several videos, the use of two light sources were touted. Since speedlights were the less expensive options and I didn't understand the different types of lighting, I opted to buy a Nikon SB-910 speedlight to give me the two light option.
At that time, Nikon used their Creative Light System (CLS) for triggering off camera flashes. I learned early on the benefits of using off camera flash, i.e., where the flash(es) aren't attached to the camera. Using CLS, your other off camera speedlights would trigger from the flash emitted from the camera's pop-up flash. The pop-up flash functions only as a trigger and does not add light to the scene. The advantage of this method is that it is relatively easy to use and it doesn't require the use of remote triggers like Pocket Wizards. On the negative side, CLS required line-of-sight from the pop-up flash to the other off camera speed lights. The Nikon speed lights have a sensor on them that must be lined up to "see" the remote pop-up flash. This is often not possible.
But I continued to stumble along never really getting the hang of using speedlights. Last year western North Carolina set record rainfall amounts, which really affected landscape photography possibilities. Waterfalls looked terrible, trails were washed out, trees were down and some roads were closed by mudslides. So I became really motivated to learn how to use my speedlights. Additionally, I bought the new Nikon D850 in the spring. Nikon decided to remove the pop-up flash on the camera so if you wanted to use off camera flash you had to get radio triggers. Oh boy - more gear to buy.
Since I was unfamiliar with radio triggers I again had no clue what to do. Luckily a guy in my camera club was familiar with flash photography. We discussed the many trigger possibilities and how I planned to use them. I opted to get the same ones that he uses both because they were well rated, had a "reasonable" price and he was available to help tutor me. I purchased the Phottix Odin II trigger and receivers for Nikon. Be sure your triggers match up to your camera. They don't come with any real manual and YouTube really doesn't have any good videos on them. So I was lucky my buddy could help me out. So without too much trouble I was up and running.
Earlier in my photographic journey when I was initially getting interested in flash photography I learned that using speedlights generally produced harsh shadowy light. So I got some umbrellas to use to soften the light. They are very cheap and easy to set up and use. But as tried out my gear with various still life compositions and the more I learned about flash photography, I learned that using umbrellas have limitations. The main ones are you lose a lot of light as it is reflected light and the light goes everywhere and can't really be directionally controlled. Some people use natural light by shooting next to a window. That wasn't an option for me as the only place I had to shoot in my house wasn't near a window.
So I did a lot of research on lighting and decided to go the soft box route. But man, there is a lot to know and they can get very expensive quickly. I thought at some point in the future if I really like still life, I might get into doing some portraits. I purchased a Profoto RFi Octabox 3'. It seems like a good compromise size at three feet. Plus the octagon shape would give some nice looking catchlights for portraits. But these aren't inexpensive. Since speed lights only emit so much light, I got a soft box bracket that could hold two speed lights, the Profoto RFi speedring - again, not cheap but its built like a tank. The soft light it produces is fantastic.
For my other speed light I was modifying the light with a Rogue Large Flashbender. This is a really cool little accessory for flash photography. It can act like a mini softbox that can be bent into a few shapes to provide more directional lighting. It was also be shaped into a snoot. For an on-the-go flash, this is a very nice and relatively cheap light modifier. But after seeing the results of my Profoto softbox, I was itching to get another softbox. Since I had my main soft box I looked for a less expensive alternative. The Godox 80cm square softbox filled the bill. With the softbox, grid and mount, it was only around $65. If produces nice soft light. But you get what you pay for. The Godox is not nearly as "beefy" and well made as the Profoto but it's a great value. One disadvantage that isn't too bad is that the soft box attaches to the mount by simply snapping into place around the mount. So its not the most secure connection but I haven't really had trouble with it yet. But you would probably not want to use it outside and carefully move it around your setup in case it fell off.
Another consideration for using speedlights is that they use batteries and eat up a lot of power. For me, since I was not anticipating recycle time to be a major consideration I went with rechargeable batteries. In the short run, they are more expensive and you have to buy a charging unit. But you should easily save quite a bit in the longer run. I also bought two chargers to help shorten the time needed to recharge all my batteries.
Finally, for still photography you generally need some type of backdrop. There are an exhaustive list of these. I chose to use simple rolls of black and white paper for the time being. You can get really creative if you want. But with backgrounds you also have to have some way of holding them. Thinking a bit longer term I went for the Savage Multiple Background Stand. It can hold up to two rolls of paper or any other type of backdrop. So if you want to easily switch backgrounds it can be done very quickly. Its a quality product and is very sturdy. It also has the ability to get quite wide should you need it.
Lastly, if you want to try food photography, you will need some backgrounds on which to place your food. Take a look at this video for ideas, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eiipb1EuyVg&t=4s. The "Bite Shop" is a great YouTube channel for food photography as is "We Eat Together". I used the ideas from this video to make three backgrounds. But going forward I'm just going to buy vinyl sheets. They look great and don't cost much.
Here are some early photos I took with my setup.
So what are "my" lesson learned? If I had to do it all over again, I'd likely go with studio strobes vs. speedlights. They can be costly for sure. But they are more flexible and have more power than speedlights. There are also more light modifiers available for them. You can also get continuous lights which help you see in advance where the light is falling and the amount of shadows you'll have and where they are. But if this isn't going to be your primary photographic interest, studio strobes might be a bit of overkill. For me, I think my overall cost would have been less. But if you want to see some fantastic flash photography with speed lights, check out Joe McNally on YouTube. He is the Jedi Knight of speed lights.
The key takeaway in today's blog is to do lots of research in advance of getting any gear. And you get what you pay for. Yes, you can get some cheaper speed lights from China, but you'll lose key features of your camera if you don't get their models. Be sure to know what you'll be getting if you go the off brand route.
Here are just a few key questions to ask yourself:
This has been a pretty long posting but I hope you've gathered something from it. If you have any questions, I'll try to help. Just drop me a line.
If you travel in northern Georgia you are in for quite a treat. The landscape is very beautiful, not quite up to North Carolina standards, but still great. Since the autumn colors in much of North Carolina had passed and weren't all that great, I decided to visit Georgia to see if I'd have better photographic luck. I was not disappointed. Even though its a bit of a trip from my home base, it was well worth the ride.
My first stop was near Hwy 196 just east of Hwy 76. As I was passing a large field I caught a glimpse of a potential photograph. Turning around to get a better view I found the little shed below stuck way out in a field. Since there were no homes to be seen I grabbed my gear to see what I could get. I'm happy with the result.
The next stop was a revisit to Minnehaha Falls near Rabun Lake. This is a very easy hike. This was the first time visiting this waterfall in autumn and it was beautiful. Water flow changes a lot for this waterfall so visit often to see its many personalities. The only bad thing was that my 17-35mm wide angle lens was in the shop being repaired. I would have loved to have it here.
Next on my list was Raper Creek Falls in Habersham County, GA. This is a very short hike. It's easy to find but there are only about two spaces for parking. It's not very well marked and you're in the middle of nowhere. I would suggest for safety reasons to use the buddy system here. The trail gets pretty steep in the lower section so some slipping is almost guaranteed. Plus there can be lots of spray near the falls and the footing on the rocks is very slippery. Again, I could really have used my wide angle lens here. I would have been able to catch more autumn trees across the stream. Guess I'll have to go back next fall.
I had tried to get to another waterfall just outside Clayton, GA. It wasn't easy to find the trailhead but I finally did. The trail was suppose to be pretty easy. But looking down the trail it seemed anything but. Since I was by myself and the sun was quickly setting with rain starting, I opted to play it safe and skip it for this trip. But as I was heading back toward Clayton, I found this little beauty just off the road. A nice way to end a long day.
I revisited the area a few days later to catch some places I wasn't able to get to the other day. My first stop was the Tallulah Gorge State Park. The gorge is two miles long and is 1000 feet deep. There are a few waterfalls found along the gorge. In the photo below you can see L'Eau d'Or Falls. There are several trails in the park. Some are easy, others require some tougher hiking.
If you take the South Rim Trail you can descend into the gorge. But bear in mind you'll have to take a total of 1136 steps to reach the floor and come back up. At some times, you're allowed to hike through the gorge. On the day I was there, the gorge was closed off except to see Hurricane Falls (see below). But I saw no way on how you could hike anywhere. There was no apparent trail that I could see. But Hurricane Falls was enough of a reward at the bottom for me. But the hike back up all those steps was a killer.
So if you're able to visit northeast Georgia, you will not be disappointed. Just don't go in summer unless you love hot humid weather.
This is part two of our trip to the northeast last autumn. After visiting Bar Harbor (Acadia National Park) we headed west a few hours to New Hampshire. Looking at a map of New Hampshire is a bit misleading. Since it is a relatively small state you can move around it quickly. I wasn't sure what to expect. I thought it might be a bit like North Carolina in the mountains but it wasn't really. While the mountains were about half the height of those in NC, they just seemed taller. I think it was because you saw more of an abrupt rise in elevation and they seemed to be more peak-like. This gave them a more majestic look in my view. In simple terms, they were gorgeous. With the trees at or near their fall peak colors, the views were beyond belief. I've heard too many times about the great color and thought "yeah, yeah, sure". But they are spectacular and truly worth the effort to see.
We visited the area the first week of October and think the timing was perfect. We came in near Gorham, NH in the northeast part of the state, headed west toward Bethlehem and down to Lincoln where we stayed. Like Bar Harbor, you won't find many national chains so look at reviews closely. Luckily we did find a Holiday Inn Express, which turned out to be very nice.
I was extremely fortunate to know of another photographer who live in southern New Hampshire. We had become acquainted through Flickr and Facebook. He offered to take me out for a day and we had so much fun. Going with someone who knows an area helps so much. You get to the best places at the right time. We had pretty good luck weather wise with rain predicted for early afternoon.
The main highway you want to see is the Kangamagus highway which runs east-west from Lincoln to Conway. The photo opportunities along this area are numerous and beautiful. One of our first stops was right along the highway called Rocky Gorge. Water flow was a bit slow but it was really nice. We got there early enough that there were only a few people. But we did have to be a bit patient for people to move out of view a few times.
Toward the end of the day, we headed north of Conway to another great area to see Crystal Cascade. Clouds were thickening so we knew we didn't have much time. The hike wasn't too long but the trail was a steady rise in elevation. We hustled the best we could with light rain starting to fall. We just had time to set up our tripods and get a few very quick shots before the sky opened up on us. I wish we could have spent a couple of hours around here but the time was late and my friend had a long drive home so we called it a day. A really great day! Thanks Keith.
Another place that my friend told me about was the flume gorge in the Franconia Notch State Park, which is just a few miles north of Lincoln. We was told to be the first one in line as this gets crazy busy so you have to really be fast up the trail to get photos without people everywhere. We ended up being second in line and I apologized to my wife as I took off once the gate opened. A ways up the trail you go into the gorge and walk along a boardwalk. A spectacular place. Since the trail was a little steep most people took their time walking up the trail so I was able to get up the trail to a few locations to take various shots. But people (and my wife) caught up to me. So I did have to manage my tripod on a narrow walkway as people went around us. Some people were very nice and didn't mind taking a break for a minute while I composed and got my shots.
My wife and I walked the entire trail. While it was a nice hike past the gorge, there really isn't any great photo opportunities so I'd wish we would have turned around and headed back through the gorge to the entrance.
Toward the end of the day, my wife was ready to crash so I knew I had another opportunity to get the car and hit a few spots I'd missed earlier. I headed back east on the Kangamagus Highway to Sabbaday Falls. This is another location where you can spend hours. But since I was a tight schedule to get back for dinner, I needed to hustle again and be VERY patient with numerous people visiting the park late in the day. At times I felt some people knew I was waiting for a clean shot and purposely held their positions. But the waiting proved the right choice as I was able to get some nice photos.
Our visit to New Hampshire was a great one. During the fall, I can't think of a better spot to be. This is definitely worth the travel to see. We were very lucky to hit the trees at their peak color.
We took our first vacation to Acadia National Park in late September last year. A very long drive from western North Carolina. I had arranged for a private photo guide to take me out one day since I knew nothing about Acadia and was hoping to find some "secret" locations. Overall, it was a bit of a disappointing day but luckily it ended on a high note. The weather was very sunny, which didn't lead to too many "wow" photos. It's sort of a gamble when you go on a vacation intending to take photos as you're highly dependent on the weather. And not knowing the guide with only relying on customer comments, you're sort of shooting in the dark too. I'd give my guide about a B- for the day on getting me to good locations at the right time.
I still had another three days in the area after the photo tour so I was able to get out to some new places and back to others I wanted to revisit. Since I was with my non-photographer wife, splitting time (and the car) was important but she is supportive of my photography passion so it generally worked out.
We thought by going in late September the fall foliage would be present. Learned that peak colors usually don't start until mid-October. But really, don't go to Acadia hoping to see a lot of great autumn scenes. Go to Vermont and New Hampshire early October for those. I'll be covering New Hampshire in an upcoming post.
About half our time in Bar Harbor was in rainy cold weather so that impacted some of my shooting plans. Don't get me wrong, its a beautiful place to see. For me, once was enough. My wife on the other hand would love to go again. If you plan to go, get reservations early. Check them out thoroughly. We ended up renting a house since our son was joining us. It came with high ratings but we didn't like it at all. Not comfortable at all and VERY old. Since the TVs and something else didn't work, we ended up getting a credit for one night. Accommodations and dining are expensive in Bar Harbor and there are nearly no major hotel chains in the area.
Here are just a few photos I took during our visit.
Here is one from the Park Loop Road - likely a bit south of Sand Beach. The cliff in the background is Otter Cliff. That was one of the bigger disappointments for me. I thought the rugged cliffs abounded through the park. They don't. There is just a fairly short stretch of them along the southeast section of the park. The area is great, don't get me wrong. I just imagined there being more. Also a word of warning. Know the tides and don't go out on the beaches as the tide is coming in. You could get caught not being able to get out in time.
This is one of my favorite photos of the trip, the lighthouse at Bass Harbor. A word of advice here too. Get here about 3 hours earlier than sunset if you want one of only six prime spots. My guide got us here about 45 minutes early and the area was packed with people making it very difficult to get a shooting spot. As it turned out I had to shimmy up a very pointy and uncomfortable rock. Lucky I had a tripod with very long legs so I was able to have a secure camera. Also my composition was limited due to all the people in front of me. Their heads are just below the frame. But I was rewarded with a nice sunset and light so that's all that mattered.
I saw this location on social media. It's called Boulder Beach but you won't find it on any park map the and the park rangers will say there is no such beach. Not sure why. Although in certain tide conditions, I could see where it might be dangerous. Look on the web for best directions but from Park Loop Road, it's south of Thunder Hole and the Gotham Mountain Trailhead. I believe there is an unmarked parking lot just past Cliff Road and its on the right side and comes up quick. I missed it 2-3 times. Once you find the parking lot, just walk across the road and there's this great beach. By the time I left my car, the rain started and just increased. On the beach, the better compositions were out a bit and closer to the waves. As a result I was constantly having to clean off my lenses from either the rain or ocean spray. I was using an umbrella locked on my tripod but that proved hard to use but did help a bit. I ended up taking a ton of shots and I did manage to get a couple without too much water on my lens. Would like to go back in better conditions but I do like the resulting photo.
On the way to Bar Harbor we stayed in Kennebunk, ME one night. Thirty minutes out of town you go through Portland and we stopped at their landmark lighthouse. Here again, get there really early as the buses flood in there right away. We did and walked at a fast clip to get to this spot. I had to erase many people from the photo that were lining the front of the building. Much later and I think it would be impossible to clean up the shot. I was fortunate to get some dramatic skies but I was only able to stay a few minutes. I've also seen some gorgeous photos from here at sunset and from the other side of the lighthouse. People, as always, are the main compositional issue here.
Maine, Bar Harbor and Acadia were nice. Wish we would have had better weather and accommodations. I'd like to visit other places before going back there. In my upcoming post, I share some thoughts on our visit to neighboring New Hampshire, which I really loved and hope to get back to soon.
If you've ever had the pleasure of listening to Kevin Adams, a notable expert on waterfalls in western North Carolina, or reading one of his several book on the topic, he'll usually show photographs of English Falls. When he tells his audience and readers about the waterfall, he's sure to mention the high level of difficulty of getting to this particular waterfall. As a frequent user of his waterfall guide book, I've come to appreciate the accuracy of his ratings for beauty and difficulty of the noted waterfalls. With that said, English Falls has always intrigued me but the stated difficulty and danger of getting to this waterfall has always prevented me from trying to photograph it.
But last fall, I saw a photograph of English Falls posted by one of my photography friends. I reached out to him to see just how difficult he found it to be. He agreed with the assessment presented by Kevin Adams but said with the right preparations, it was doable. He said he could get me to it.
I thought this adventure over in my head and asked my buddy a couple more times about it and looked at some YouTube videos to check it out more. I finally decided to try it with the understanding if at any point it seemed too much I'd back off.
Mike and I met up on the Parkway, gathered our gear and ropes and headed off. The hike quickly began a steep descent requiring some butt slides and grabbing on to bushes to control sliding. We came to first very steep descent and Mike tied up a long length of rope. With a heavy pack on, this proved more difficult than I expected. I was very happy of my decision to bring along leather gloves. They definitely helped my grip. If you lose your grip here, you're in for a long slide without anything to grab unto. The result would likely be very painful.
Having made the first section OK, we skirted around a steep area finally reaching the second steep drop around some rock cliffs. Using another section of rope and with a lot of Mike's help, I made it down. We were then within sight of the waterfall. At this point, the top view really hid the overall beauty of the waterfall. The final hurdle was getting down a straight drop down a rock face of about 7-8 feet. We were out of rope at this point. With his much younger legs than mine, Mike jumped down OK. At this point, I was quite unsure if I should even try not knowing how to even attempt getting down much less knowing anything about how to get back up. Mike encouraged me to try with his help. He quite literally grabbed my legs as I lowered myself over the embankment and safely lowered me to the ground. It only worked because my buddy was big, young and strong. Otherwise, no way.
Then I saw the full waterfall and it was breathtaking. But there was a lot of spray off the waterfall since you have to be very close to it as there is very little area to walk around. The color in the trees above the falls was great but the sun was still too high so we had to wait about 30 minutes before shooting. I would have liked moving around a bit to get different compositions, but the rocks were wet and extremely slippery. A fall here meant broken bones or worse given the steep grade of the hill. However, another photographer showed up a bit later and he rock hopped across the stream to the other side. It wasn't worth the risk to try moving from my relatively safe flat small spot.
Finally the sun went done and we started clicking away being sure to constantly clean off our lenses from all the spray. Getting a very low exposure in this spray was impossible. I managed to get a 1.6 sec shutter speed. These photos were taken with a wide angle lens at 30mm and 32mm on a full frame Nikon D850. Anything larger would likely not work very well. We only had about 45 minutes to shoot as we had to be sure to get back to our car before darkness came.
The hardest part of the hike back was getting up the initial rock face. Mike gave me a strong boost up and handed me my pack. We then used our ropes to literally pull ourselves up the steep hill. There would have been no way to get up without ropes securely tied to trees. We did see some ropes there but their condition was extremely suspect. While the distance isn't far, it's the steepness that makes this a very difficult hike. But happily, we made it back safely. And for this old dog, I was quite pleased with the adventure and my buddy's help.
I was pretty pleased with the post processed photos I came away with, see two below. We were lucky with the colors, the flow of the water, and the overall lack of wind. But we still had to contend with the spray.
If you go, please understand this is a very hard hike. By far the hardest I ever have done. Have plenty of rope too. But the last sheer drop is the one to worry about. Getting down and back up should not be underestimated. I'm not providing directions as I don't want to be responsible for anyone getting hurt. I'm not sure I'll ever attempt going here again. The internet provides directions if you feel you have to go.