Chasing Waterfalls

A couple of weeks ago I spent a few days shooting in the Dakotas, mostly at places I hadn’t visited previously.  I had spent quite a bit of time researching possible places to shoot, one of those being Spearfish Canyon in the Black Hills.  In particular I wanted to see the three major waterfalls in the area – Bridal Veil, Spearfish, and Roughlock.  I had tentatively set aside an afternoon to explore the area, but decided instead to check it out the next morning.  A decision that proved to be fortuitous.

I set out before sunrise but didn’t actually get to the first waterfall – Bridal Veil – until about a half hour after sunrise.  The light in the canyon was still soft as I set up my tripod, but I noticed that the falls were framed by quite a bit of foliage, and the wind was blowing pretty hard and steady.  A few test shots confirmed what I suspected – the leaves were blurring in the longer exposures needed to get a nice blur in the water.  I decided to switch to my longest zoom lens and concentrate on capturing small segments of the falls, a strategy that I think worked out nicely.  All in all I ended up shooting Bridal Veil Falls for about twenty minutes.  Best of all, I was the only person taking it all in…


I headed up the road, ending up at the parking area for Spearfish Falls.  I parked in full daylight and figured that shooting waterfalls for the day was over (the best shooting is when waterfalls are in the shade or under overcast skies).  I strolled over to the overlook at the edge of the parking lot and looked down, noticing that the falls were still in the shade.  I quickly grabbed my tripod and gear and headed down the trail as quickly as I could and was eventually greeted by this view.


I spent about twenty-five minutes shooting Spearfish Falls, trying different compositions.


Around 8 A.M. the light started to filter into the canyon and hit the falls, and the shooting was over for the day.  I took my time walking back up to the parking lot, stopping to read the informational signs along the trail.  After a snack and a little bit of people watching, I headed up the side road to Roughlock Falls, thinking that even if I wouldn’t be able to shoot them I could at least see them.


I started down the trail and after a short distance walked out onto a overlook at the top of the falls.  I looked down and – the falls were in full shade!  Even at this late hour (about a quarter ’til nine).  I bolted back to the Jeep and then flew down the trail with my gear and soon I was at the foot of the falls.


I knew the canyon would soon be flooded with light so I worked quickly, taking it all in.


And getting some closer compositions as well.


Ending with a few final shots of the falls in their entirety.


I spent less than fifteen minutes shooting Spearfish Falls before the light was gone (or came flooding in), depending on your point of view.  But that was all the time I needed.  Twice I thought that my timing was off, and twice I was proven wrong.  Moral of the story?  Always check things out before you totally write them off.

If you’d like to see more of my work, my online portfolio (where my work can be purchased) is here.  I post photos daily on Facebook and Google+, share my photography journey on Twitter (@KSchafferPhoto), and share iPhone pics from the road and around the house on Instagram (kschafferphoto).



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