Last week I was out in Portland visiting the on1 office and had a chance to get out and do some shooting. One of the places I’ve wanted to get to for a while was Elowah Falls. It’s pretty close to Portland so it’s an easy trip out in the morning, so my buddy and fellow co-worker and I, Rick Lepage, headed out.
Elowah is actually easy to get to. It’s just about 30 minutes outside of Portland, and right near one of the most popular waterfalls there – Multnomah Falls. It’s got a small parking lot which was empty when we were there, and it’s just under a mile hike to the falls. Nothing too crazy. A lot of it is uphill and it wasn’t really raining, but I could see how it could get tricky if it was rainy and muddy along the way. Overall though, really easy to get to.
Sunrise, But Not Really
The interesting part about the Columbia River Gorge is that sunrise (or sunset) isn’t always a factor in shooting. Sure there’s many places where the early morning sun can hit the area just right, and make for some spectacular photos – but Elowah isn’t one of them. The sun pretty much comes up somewhere behind the wall that you’re looking at in this photo. It’s quite a while before you’d ever see it overhead, so getting there at sunrise wasn’t as crucial (even though we did).
Camera Settings: f/11, 4 sec, 18mm, ISO 100
Finding a Spot
When it comes to waterfalls, I love foreground. Luckily Elowah has plenty. On this particular day the water was flowing nicely so there’s plenty of it, but it was low enough that you could get across the bridge you see in this photo, and set up below to get some great angles of the rocks up front, the bridge, as well as the falls in the background. Here’s a shot Rick took of me while I was shooting.
Camera Settings: f/11, 4 sec, ISO 100
And here’s some of my favorites from that general area. As you can see, I was always looking for rocks and some of those small cascading waterfall drops to put in front. Normally, I usually try to compose my landscape photos to remove most man-made things (bridges, pathways, etc…). But in this case, even though I have some compositions that didn’t include the bridge, I actually like these better.
Camera Settings: f/11, 3 sec, 18mm, ISO 100
Camera Settings: f/11, 1.6 sec, 18mm, ISO 100
Camera Settings: f/11, 1.3 sec, 18mm, ISO 100
A Cool Shot of Rick
While I was shooting, Rick walked across the bridge and it looked like a cool shot. So I had him stand still (for 1.3 seconds to be exact) while I snagged a shot.
Keeping the Lens Dry
Believe it or not, this was one of the hardest parts of the shoot. Even though the falls was a hundred or so yards away, the spray coming off of it is constant. Basically, I stole (borrowed) a towel from my hotel room and kept it over my camera (since I forgot my rain gear). Then when I was ready to shoot I’d take it off. Even then, the lens would still get spray on it so I’d always have to wipe it off with the Hoodman lens clothes that I wrote about a while back (post: 3 Things That Save My Ass on Landscape Shoots).
As I went back over the bridge I stopped to just stare at the falls for a minute. As I was looking I could see some cool water patterns behind the falls so I set up the tripod and grabbed a tight photo of the bottom of the falls. Different, but still cool.
Camera Settings: f/11, 0.8 sec, 58mm, ISO 100
A Waterfall Selfie
As I stood there I realized it would be cool to have a shot of me in front of the falls. Rick had moved on to some other areas to shoot and was nowhere to be seen, so I set my camera up to take a few shots of me on the rocks. Up until this point I hadn’t really gotten wet. But standing in front of the falls like this, with all of the spray coming off, I was pretty much soaked in about 10 seconds. And yeah, I know it would have been better if I stood in the middle of the falls, but I misjudged where I was and wasn’t going back 🙂
Timing Is Everything
Just as a little side note, Rick went back to Elowah a few days later with his wife Susan. It was after 3 days of rain in Portland and the water was flowing really strong. The area I stood in was basically under water (see photo below) and just walking across the bridge, he said he was soaked instantly. I’m sure I would have gotten some shots, but I don’t think I’d have liked them as much as these. Like I said, timing is everything 🙂
Have a good one!
Great pics, Matt! I went to this spot last September during the drought and it was flowing but not like what you saw. Finding a good spot to take it all in is dangerous as the rocks are so slippery. I went below the bridge and both legs went in the water up to my knees – almost lost my camera! So, the trip back to Portland was with wet feet and ruined boots. Still, I’d like to go back and try again.
Great shots Matt and thank you for all the camera information. It helps us newbs.
My wife Kelli and I were on a trail last week very close to where you were. We hiked to Wahclella Falls, right across from Bonneville Dam and found that yes, TONS of water is coming over all the falls around here right now.
Also, you came to Portland and forgot your rain gear? lol.
The link to the Yosemite National Park in the “Upcoming Workshops” goes to a broken page – might want to fix that.
Hi Matt – I can imagine it was really, really dark in that valley, yet the water is quite bright, so that’s a lot of natural contrast to draw the eye. When you processed these shots (I assume in OnOne!!) did you find you needed much adjustment to bring up the shadows; if so, did you need the OnOne noise reduction (or did you do that in LR?). Also, did you have to add much of a vignette or did the natural light fall-off do that for you?
Great, great post, by the way.
Hi Paul. I processed the photos in Lightroom first. That’s where I do all of my shadows and exposure work. I did boost the shadows quite a bit. No noise reduction though. Not really any there. I use onOne Perfect Effects mostly for finishing effects and my style. There was a lot of light fall off around, but there’s definitely some post processing vignette and dodge/burn going on as well.
A couple thoughts:
1) I love the shot of Rick taking a picture of you. I think his angle is a great one of the waterfall and the whole scene. Awesome.
2) Your selfie looks great with you off to the side. You look quite reflective and I think if you were in the middle of it you would be blocking the view of the waterfall. This way we can see you looking at something and see what you’re looking at.
3) That bridge looks sketchy. Was it safe?
Thanks Christine – I’ll pass your comments on to Rick. He’s a good shooter so I was glad he grabbed a shot of me.
As for the bridge, yes it was very safe and sturdy. No worries there.
Some really incredible shoots!! I think the selfie looks Great with you off to side. So, the hike sounded okay to the falls. What’s your thought about an old dude with some slightly bad knees making that hike? I can go up okay, but if it’s too step coming down will be hard.
Again, excellent photos!
Hey Dennis. It’s not a bad hike. It is quite a bit uphill and got me breathing hard at times, but just take it slow. I’m with ya though – coming down hill is the worst. I don’t have bad knees. In fact, my knees never hurt me unless I’m walking down a steep hill like that. Again, just take it slow. But a very attainable walk, even if you’re an “old dude” 🙂
Great series you got there. I want to make a trip out there after seeing these!
Thanks John. Definitely worth it!