Last weekend I got together with a handful of local photographers who gave me a tour of the gorgeous waterfall collection in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests in North Carolina. It’s the tail end of summer here, and the day was warm and beautiful. Unfortunately it was too pretty of a day, with virtually no cloud cover. Which as you photographers know, makes for pretty non-ideal shooting conditions.

Some spots were under heavy woods canopy though, and we made the best of it photographically. Personally we all had a blast, and it was wonderful to see what’s available within an hour’s drive! We also all agreed to get together for a re-shoot in late October, when the leaves have changed and the colors turn that special shade of spectacular. It was good to be there now to see what’s where, and be able to plan a few shots for the Fall redux.

Here’s a few of my favorites from the day, each with some notes on the photography and the treatment given. All images are treated 100% in Aperture. No plug-ins, no Photoshop, just Aperture.

Nantahala National Forest, Whitewater Falls

This first photo (above) was a real challenge because of the direct, hard sun (even at 8:00am) that was flooding the valley. No coulds, no diffusion, hard hard shadows. I decided to push the photo as much as I could in Aperture into black and white, and try to make it decent. It’s OK, I’m not thrilled with it, and would love to return another day.

Nantahala National Forest, Whitewater Falls

Same waterfall as the top photo, just through a tighter lens. This would probably be a good candidate for a mild HDR treatment, if I ever got into that. The original shots (which I bracketed for HDR, in the event I decide to try it out), range about six stops in usable detail from the spray highlights on the waterfall to the wet, black rocks in shadows. The original of this shot is pretty much black in the shadows, but through a bit of brushed shadow lifting, dodging and color work, I got the result above. I’d actually be interested in learning HDR to do Black & Whites that way. I’ve seen some stellar results of that, very Ansel Adams zone-system like. Worth exploring sometime.

Nantahala National Forest, Whitewater Falls

Last one, same area. Fisheye lens. I shot a lot with that lens on this trip, actually. I just worked for so many shots. You can really appreciate the harshness of the shadows in this shot, as I did very little to recover them here.

Pisgah National Forest, Living Waters

This “Living Waters” is a spiritual retreat; private land but open to the public. I have to say, sitting on that balcony overlooking this waterfall would be a pretty peaceful place to be.

Pisgah National Forest, Living Waters

Some early changers? Every so often, a tiny splash of color other than green, green or green would peek out at us. Nothing like a crowd of photographers with tripods focusing in on a 2cm wide leaf!

Pisgah National Forest, Living Waters

A short walk down from the waterfall is this area. Again, the dynamic range here is a killer. This one is pretty heavily treated to get any detail out of the rocks in the shadow-side of the sun. I stood in near-ankle deep water to get the shot (gotta have good boots!) and shot this with a fisheye as well, but wasn’t happy with the composition of the overall shot. I cropped square, liked it a bit more, and am sharing it really just so I can compare in October when we go back. A slightly different time of day would help tremendously here, too.

Pisgah National Forest, Courthouse FallsWe drove off the paved road for quite a while to get here, then hiked in maybe 10 minutes or so. As we climbed down the steep path to the falls, this painted man was contemplating a swim in the cold water.

Pisgah National Forest, Courthouse Falls

The swimmers were so kind as to step out of our way while we shot. Thanks guys! Here my tripod is set up in the middle of the river, in a foot of water or so. I love these long exposures of waterfalls. Perhaps a bit cliché, but always beautiful.

Pisgah National Forest, Courthouse Falls

Another fisheye shot, but slightly cropped. I shot a sequence at various Apertures to vary the size of the lens flare, and this was my favorite. Lens flare can be fun to play with when you work it into the shot, and that 15mm Fisheye gives some great flares.

Pisgah National Forest, Looking Glass Rock

In the winter, this rock can be covered in ice, reflecting back like a big mirror in the forest. Apparently even when it’s wet, it’s quite the site to see. If we can time a shot here with the fall colors, just after a rainfall, I think we’ll have something pretty spectacular.

Pisgah National Forest, Moore Cove Falls

I love the angle here. Another fisheye shot, standing right at the base of the falls, looking straight up. Got a little wet, but that’s OK! The lighting inside the cave is entirely natural, believe it or not. No treatment here at all. I could see shooting this with a ton of lights and really lighting up the inside so I could bring the exposure of the sky way down. Might be something to try next time we go… a bag full of speedlites would do the trick!

Pisgah National Forest, Moore Cove Falls

Another overabundance of green and hard shadows. A bit of work in curves, a black & white conversion, and a touch of green color tinting, and it’s an OK shot. One to repeat with more color and less harsh light.

Pisgah National Forest, Moore Cove Falls

Parting shot. One little leaf who decided to change color a bit too early. No worries little guy, we’ll be back when your brethren follow suit!

Each of the photos above can be viewed larger by clicking and opening the full size gallery—expand your browser window and the photo will grow, too. Also, each is geotagged so if you’re interested in finding these spots yourself, just click the “Map This” button in the gallery. At the end of the gallery are a few shots of the folks out shooting, too.

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