Waterfalls Aplenty

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Oneida Falls in October. Fallen leaves cover the rocks below Oneida Falls, Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania.
Nikon Z7 with Nikkor Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S at 16.5mm, 1/2 sec, f/11, ISO 64

The last part of our 2021 fall trip to the northeastern United States was spent in Pennsylvania. I have always found Pennsylvania to be a pretty, if skunk-infested, state with lots of ridges and valleys and forests. This trip was the first time that I had ever visited Ricketts Glen State Park. My planned couple-hour solo jaunt from where we were staying to check out the park turned into an almost-all-day affair; Susan did not appreciate my extended absence. I tried to make it up to her the next day by going again, this time with her. I’m not sure that quite did the trick, but she enjoyed the outing as well.

Ganoga Falls. Leaves are starting to fall at Ganoga Falls, Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania.
Nikon Z7 with Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S at 24mm, 1/8 sec, f/8.0, ISO 64

The great thing about Ricketts Glen is that there are 18 waterfalls on a 3.2-mile triangular loop: you go downhill following a creek with ten waterfalls until it joins another creek that you follow uphill passing eight more waterfalls and then go across back to where you started. Each of the three segments is roughly the same length. The trail is pretty easy, especially because you are usually stopping every few hundred yards to take some pictures. There is also a trail that heads downstream from the merged creeks that passes another three waterfalls, but I didn’t follow that spur. From the standpoint of sheer photographic efficiency, 18 waterfalls in 3.2 miles of relatively easy hiking is tough to beat. Especially when you hail from Arizona, which at the time I did.

Falling Cascade. A cascade surrounds a leaf-covered rock in Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania.
Nikon Z7 with Nikkor Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S at 19.5mm, 0.7 sec, f/11, ISO 64

The first day was overcast, which for waterfalls is definitely easier light to work with: the light is dimmer (which makes it easier to take long exposures that blur the waterfalls nicely) and less contrasty. Of course, “less contrasty” can be a euphemism for “flat,” so a little color boosting in post-processing is in order. Also, since the waterfalls in Ricketts Glen are all relatively small, it was pretty easy to keep the overcast sky out of the frame. (An overcast sky in this situation will often show up as featureless white space that seldom looks good.)

Delaware Falls. Delaware Falls flows amidst fallen tress and leaves in Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania.
Nikon Z7 with Nikkor Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S at 24mm, 1/3 sec, f/11, ISO 64

The four pictures above were all taken on the first day where, as mentioned, it was overcast and a little rainy. On the second day, there was some sunlight to work with:

Autumn Canopy. A leaf-covered trail winds through Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania.
Nikon Z7 with Nikkor Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S at 14mm, 1/60 sec, f/11, ISO 64

You can never really go wrong with backlit leaves in the fall. This image really relies on the path leading directly towards the sun at this point. That geometry results in the overhead leaves being backlit, more sunlight reaching the path and reflecting towards the camera, and the sunstar sitting just over the path as it recedes into the woods. While I would love it if the leaves on the path were freshly fallen (instead of mostly ground into paste) I do like the way the reflections highlight the path’s course into the distance.

In this next image the backlit leaves are not even in the frame, but they add a lot of color to the scene through their reflections:

Golden Pools. Pools in leaf-covered rocks reflect the golden fall leaves in Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania.
Nikon Z7 with Nikkor Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S at 18mm, 0.7 sec, f/11, ISO 64

Despite the sun, that image manages to be in a spot where the sunlight didn’t reach. The following image, however, has to contend with dappled sunlight, something that historically I have found challenging to post-process:

Dappled Cascade. Patches of sunlight illuminate an autumn cascade in Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania.
Nikon Z7 with Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S at 24mm, 1/30 sec, f/11, ISO 64

I am not completely satisfied with this rendition, but it’s a lot better than I have done in the past with this kind of scene. The thing that helped me was watching a YouTube video by Mark Dumbleton a few weeks ago where he started his Lightroom edit with the “Camera Flat” profile. Basically, this gives a starting point that is very low contrast and, frankly, looks terrible—kind of the opposite extreme of what an iPhone does to your picture. But, it is much easier to add contrast than to remove it. Because it looks so bad as a starting point, I had never used it. In fact, I had deliberately removed it from the list of starting profiles that Lightroom would even show me. Consequently, I forgot it even existed. But as it turns out this is just what’s needed for very high contrast scenes. Here is a comparison of two possible starting points:

Flat Profile
Standard Profile

They both look terrible as a starting point, but because the “standard” profile usually looks good and the “flat” profile never does, I had universally dismissed the latter. But in a high-contrast scene like this, it is very hard to make anything worthwhile out of those deep dark shadows on the right, whereas it is a lot easier to resurrect the gentler shadows on the left. The same can be said for where the sunlight strikes the foaming water: the very bright water on the right is harder to manage than the less extreme tone of the water on the left. I am very thankful to have seen that video and want to revisit some other images I have struggled with in the past. And, had I known about this, I probably would have taken more waterfall pictures that second day.

I will wrap this post up with something waterless:

Lichen Rock. A lichen-covered rock lies alongside a trail in Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania.
Nikon Z7 with Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S at 30mm, 1/30 sec, f/8.0, ISO 72

I am always a big fan of lichen, but I think the fractured and layered character of this rock combined with the dappled light makes for an interesting image with a nice color palette.

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