Waterfall Photography

Oregon boasts 238 major waterfalls. Photographers can capture ten in a single day at Silver Falls State Park.

Getting to the bottom of a 250 foot waterfall requires climbing down 250 feet of muddy terrain and then back up again.  This obvious calculation did not cross my mind until half way up the return trip.  The pack on my back with two camera bodies and three large lenses weighed about twenty pounds. The heavy duty tripod under my right arm weighed another ten. 

I tell you this, so you don’t make the same mistake. In fact, I have a “pro tip”  that will help you photograph ten spectacular falls in the same day (or two days in my case as I work slowly)

Get yourself to Oregon, and drive to the crown jewel of its park system—Silver Falls State Park.  It’s only two hours south of Portland.  Stay overnight in the charming town of Silverton a hamlet surrounded by family wineries that produce award-winning Pinot Noir. 

Get up early, whittle your equipment bag down to one camera and your favorite wide angle, then drive 20 minutes to Silver Falls State Park. 

Silver Falls State Park is not only the “gem of Oregon’s Park System”, it was created for average hikers like me.  The park consists of 9,000 acres of rain forest dropping down to a rushing river, with two access points: The main entrance at the south end of the gorge has large parking areas, clean “facilities”, a restaurant and store.  You will want to stop here one way or another—its a great oasis and “finish” to a day of hiking. 

I prefer stepping downhill to stepping uphill, and if this sounds appealing to you, then start your hike at the  “North Parking Lot” (the “top” of the river) and follow the trails to end at the “South Parking Lot” and catch a ride back. This trick turns the 8 mile hike into a four mile hike with the reward of ten spectacular falls— Yes, that’s why they call it “the trail of ten falls.” 

Tips for Photographers

  1. Look for interesting foreground objects like flowers, ferns, or rivulets of rushing water to fill the bottom of your vertical frame.  Spend time composing a dramatic shot by getting low and close to the water and to flora. Before you set up your tripod. 
  2. Set your camera to manual exposure mode and manual focus mode. 
  3. Set your shutter speed to between 1/30 of a second to 5 seconds for the pleasing “blurred water effect”.  
  4. Set your aperture to its sweet spot, usually around f.11 or f.13.
  5. Set your ISO to 100. 
  6. Add a neutral density filter to darken your scene to compensate for the long open shutter. 
  7. Focus 1/3 of the way into the frame (if you don’t focus stack in Lightroom)
  8. For the most professional shots, you will want to take 3 to 7 shots focused from front to back:  The foreground flower, the midway rocks, the base of the falls, the wall halfway up the falls and the top of the falls.  (You can find many You Tube videos showing how to stack these in Photoshop). This is the best way to create a fine art image that can be enlarged into a 36” or greater print. 

Tips for Photographers with significant others

  1. Divide the photography sessions into two mornings, and spend the afternoons toasting your efforts at one of the dozens of family run vineyards within a half hour’s drive. 
“The Trail of Ten Falls” within Oregon’s Silver Falls State Park offers safe and easy to access for photographers wishing to create dramatic images of waterfalls.