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Monday, July 15, 2013

East Coast Rain Forest

Yesterday, was certainly a day to remember in all my years of photography.  I decided to head up to Tom's Creek Falls and attempt to capture the overcast lighting for maximum color saturation and for the soft effects it has on the final image, but the weather conditions were unpredictable to say the least.

I arrived at Tom's Creek Falls sometime around 1:30pm at a parking lot which had no markings at all.  I deduced that this must be the trail as there were several other cars there and I was literally at the end of the road.  The rain had slacked up and the cloud conditions were perfectly overcast creating a giant soft box across the region.  Soon, I had my backpack strapped on, the tripod slung across my shoulder and I was off down the path.

About 100 feet down the trail I noticed the humidity had really increased and the trail was very wet and muddy.  The thick rhododendron were hanging low from the damp conditions and to me it looked more like a rain forest than a Western North Carolina forest.  I walked for what seemed about a half mile and I heard the roar of water ahead.  I love that sound as I am approaching a waterfall.  Finally, I arrived to see a much larger waterfall than I had seen in pictures online.  The drenching rain of the past few weeks had given the falls a completely new look.

At first, I found this a pleasing sight and indeed it was beautiful with the water flowing so quickly.  I say at first, because as soon as I took out the camera I had a problem.  The rain began to fall and the wind picked up dramatically. It only took a few seconds for the polarizer I had attached to my lens to become covered in the mist from the falls.  I wiped the filter off and took a couple shots before it completely fogged.  Now I had two problems.  The humidity was fogging the filter and was condensing on each side.  Attempts to defog it and wipe it off now were futile so I took it off and started shooting again

I got a few more shots off before the lens was now covered in spray.  Realize that I am not on top of the falls, but I am standing back a couple hundred feet. Next, my view finder began to fog and now I am getting a bit irritated.  Here stands a beautiful falls with high water flow and the humidity is horrendous.

I decided to take a break and see if conditions approved, but they really never did.  I took a few more shots and packed it up.  Even though I didn't get the shots I really wanted, I did get to see a waterfall in a much more spectacular condition than it normally is.  This, although not the reward I was expecting, was a pleasant surprise.

Takeaways and Lessons Learned
So my biggest lesson learned here is even if the lighting conditions are favorable, be careful of  humidity caused right after a rain.  It is brutal on the equipment and your creative energy.  Below are a couple shots I grabbed before it got really bad.  Nature photography is a game of light and weather which when combined correctly makes for some great photos, but when it is off in one direction or another it can be disastrous.  When you have a day like this realize that you learned a great deal about not only general conditions and how it affects the final photograph, but you also know how to scout a location so the next time you shoot it, you will be fully prepared.  For example, I learned how this falls looks in overcast conditions in July.  The foliage is very saturated in color and the falls have a much softer glow. Furthermore, the trees frame the falls in a way that make it difficult to get shots from all angles.  No doubt this scene would be considerably different in the fall.  I also learned that the rocks at the base of the falls are about one to two feet wide in most cases and have a scattered look.  This makes it difficult to have large foreground interest and still maintain the natural perspective of the falls.  Perhaps next time I would rent a 17mm lens and come in close when the water flow has receded some.  I also came up with several ideas to combat the rainy and windy conditions.  Perhaps next time I can have several clean, dry UV filters ready to slap onto my lens to take the brunt of the rain instead of constantly trying to wipe off the filter.  You may look at these photos and think you like the look of shooting in these conditions and build a style around it.

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