The Story Behind The Photo (Falls Creek Falls)

It’s time for another Story Behind the Photo post. This week is from a place called Lower Falls Creek in the South Cascades just across the border into Washington state.

Here’s the shot:
(You Definitely Have To Click To See The Photo Larger)

The Story
Back in August I was in the Portland area and went out shoot along the Columbia River Gorge with some friends Nicole Young, Brian Matiash, and Brian Bonham (thanks guys! great time!). Any of you that know the area know that finding waterfalls there is like finding a palm tree to photograph in Florida – they’re EVERYWHERE! So I set out to find some really interesting ones. While doing some research on the web, I found a place called Falls Creek and it looked like it could be a great spot. I really liked the fact that it wasn’t just one waterfall. It had a large lower fall, but it also had a really nice upper area up top too. So we got all of our gear together one afternoon and headed out.

We shot at a few other places (more stories for another time) and arrived at the Falls Creek trailhead around 4:30pm. Sunset was probably around 7:30-8pm at the time but we hoped that the falls would get covered by the hills and trees around and still make for a good shooting opportunity while it was still light out.

2 Miles Ain’t So Bad Right?
The hike up was around 2 miles (the trail said less, but we swear it was more). Here’s the problem… it was ALL uphill. I stupidly thought it may get cool when we got in the shade so I even put a jacket on. Nicole and I led the way while the Brian’s hung behind and “chatted” (we think they were just too tired to keep up with us ;) ). The trail wasn’t treacherous by any means, but it was narrow so you had to constantly keep your eyes in front of you to make sure you didn’t step off the side. We kept saying that we’ll stop at a point where it levels out and take a rest, but that point never seemed to come.

After about 15 minutes, I shed my extra layers and all 4 of us were sweating pretty bad (well, Nicole was glistening ;) ). Luckily though, it wasn’t a hard trail so you pretty much knew exactly where to go the whole time. About 40-45 minutes after we started, we could hear the roaring sound of the water and we knew we were close. Then we came around a bend in the trail and there it was… beautiful! The falls were bigger than I thought, but the whole scene was just breathtaking.

Setting Up
We were the only ones there shooting. There were a couple of kids hanging out but they left not too long after we got there. So we set up, spread out and started shooting. Everyone worked the area in different locations and in different ways. It was kinda cool to see. Brian took out his fisheye and got really close to the falls. Nicole and I stayed back and put on zoom lenses and worked the details and Brian Bonham walked around and tried to find some different angles to shoot from.

The Sunniest Day in Portland… Ever!
The day we set out had to be one of the sunniest days in Portland (okay, sunniest that I’d ever seen). Every time I’ve been there you could always count on cloudy skies – which happen to be great to shoot waterfalls in. But this day there wasn’t a cloud in the sky (yes, I know that that’s pretty typical for August in Portland). The photo below is what we saw when we got there. Pretty, but not quite what I was hoping for when it comes to good light.

Waiting For The Good Light
So here we are, in this beautiful place… in harsh light. Yup, we were there almost 2 hours too early for the good light. The sun, fickle as it can be, took the absolute longest track across the sky that it could. There was one tiny area of trees along the route the sun could follow that would ensure it would cast harsh light on the falls as long as possible. And wouldn’t ya know, that was the path it took. So I pretty much shot for a few minutes with my zoom lens on, zooming in on small parts of the waterfall to eliminate the harsh light when I could. I knew the shot I wanted was a wide shot, but the zoom lens helped to keep me busy for a while. But after about 30 minutes of that, I stopped shooting and we just sat there talking for a while.

Alone In The Wilderness
The two Brian’s and Nicole saw some really cool photo spots on the hike up, so they packed up a little early and went down to shoot them. I decided to hang around and wait for the light to go down to see if I could get a good shot of the falls. And I took a few more zoomed in/detail photos while I waited.

It was actually kinda nice. Don’t get me wrong. I love shooting with other people. I had great company and we had a laugh a minute. But it was a neat experience to just sit there and enjoy the falls for a while. I walked around for a bit and checked out some of the area and waited until the sun got pretty close to setting. By this point, I kinda knew what composition I wanted so I set up my tripod and started shooting.

Camera Settings
As many of you know, shooting waterfalls means longer shutter speeds. You want to let the water blur so it looks smooth and not frozen in time. When the light went down enough, I was able to get those shutter speeds without using a ND filter.
• Camera: Nikon D800
• Lens: Nikone 16-35mm @ 21mm
• Aperture Priority Mode
• Aperture: f/11
• Shutter Speed: 3 sec
• Matrix Metering
• Tripod: Gitzo Traveler
Really Right Stuff BH-40 ballhead
• ISO: 100

The Video Behind The Photo
I grabbed some video from my iPhone while I was there. I figured I’d share it so you can get an idea of how big the falls were and what it looked like from where I was standing. (that’s Brian Matiash and Nicole waving to me at the end)

A Quick Note About The Final Photo
I stayed until the sun went totally behind the hills and trees, and I do have a photo that has absolutely no hint of sunlight on the waterfall or surrounding area. But the final photo I chose still shows just a little bit of sunlight hitting the very top of the trees and waterfall. I chose that one purposely because I think it shows a slight moment in time – when the sun is just about gone… but not totally. In fact, when it comes to my landscape and outdoor photos I tend to do that a lot. To me at least, it tends to make the photo a little more dynamic. Something more than “I just dropped my tripod in a spot that everyone else was standing in and took a photo”. When you catch a very specific moment, like the last bit of light on the trees, or that sun-star on the edge of a mountain, I think it makes landscape photos stand out just a little more from the norm and adds that elements of “I caught this at the exact right moment” feel to it.

The Hike Back Down
You’d think the hike down would have been easy. But I gotta tell ya, it actually hurt more than the hike up. The trail was so steep that I found it hurt my knees to have that constant pressure on them for the whole trip down. As happy as I was when the hike up was over, I think I was even happier when the hike down was. I stopped along the way to meet up with the rest of the gang and they were still shooting some detail shots along the creek. They even waited until the light was totally gone, and made some really cool light-painting photos on the rocks in the water too.

So that’s the story for the week. Overall, it was a great shooting experience. Any time you can get out there shooting, at a beautiful place with some good friends, is a killer day in my book. Thanks for stopping by. Have a good one! :)

  • Tomislav

    Hi Matt, I really like this story behind a shoot series. I was wondering if you could write a bit about how you carried (or how you usually carry) your photo gear on a shoot to some landscape location where you can get only on foot?

    • KC

      Agreed. What did everyone carry their gear in?

  • Steve Beck

    Matt, excellent write up. I only recently discovered your blog. I have been having a great time reading back through your posts and enjoying them very much.

    Thank you for the time and effort you put into doing this.

  • Dennis Zito

    Matt, what can I say … these are just spectacular photos! I love reading your Stories behind the Photos. You mentioned that you used a zoom lens for some of the shots, but your final photo was wide angle 16-35 mm. What was it about the scene that made you change your mind? Fantastic photos … and it reminded me of my climb to Bear Creek Falls in Telluride, CO. I just might have to get to Oregon one of these days!

    Thanks for the Story!


    • Matt Kloskowski

      Hey Dennis – thanks :)
      I put the zoom lens on while the light was bad. I zoomed in to small parts of the falls that didn’t have harsh light on them to get some of the details. But I knew the shot I wanted was wide, to capture the entire falls. The zoom lens just helped keep me busy for a while so I wasn’t just sitting there :)

  • CLKeyes

    Well you could have at least called while in the area. I am certainly glad we have a lot of beautiful waterfalls that can be shot without hiking inland. I think your trip did take you to Multnomah Falls, seems like I read about you on another blog. These are awesome, our rainy season may have just started and I have been wondering about venturing out to practice shooting the falls even though it is rainy. I am a new, right out of the box beginner with a camera and time, and love seeing pictures around my area that I can explore.

  • Nicole Young

    Great post, Matt! Haha, I was “glistening” (…at least I could keep up!) ;)

  • Brian Bonham

    Just to be clear, it wasn’t both Brian’s that were too tired to carry on. It just happens that one of us is kind enough to keep Matiash company while he catches his breath ;)

    Love this post. It is a great lesson on patience while the light sorts itself out.

    • Matt Kloskowski

      Lol! Sorry Brian… I should have mentioned that :)
      In fact, for anyone reading, Brian really wanted to jog or even run up to the top. We were holding him back :)

  • gil feliciano

    “Nicole was glistening” . . . you, sir, are a real gentleman! p.s. love your Story Behind stuff!

  • Matt Buntyn

    I was at a softball game this past weekend, and someone said that women glisten. A father replied by saying that his daughter was, “Glistening like a pig.”

  • Rick White

    You just made my day Matt. I live in Indonesia but am from Washington and make that drive through the gorge once every summer. Great article and thanks for the link to the site that has the EXACT coordinates where I start hiking.

  • David

    Fantastic shot there Matt. I must visit there next spring/summer. You have made my Oregon list get one stop longer. Adding to your “April Snow” adventure at aTrillium Lake and Mt Hood.

  • Bard

    Great shots. You’re a true inspiration and a great teacher. If you ever come to Norway I can show you some great spots to shoot and maybe also catch some nothern light ;-)

  • Maurice

    Perfect timing! I’ll be traveling to Portland tomorrow and have all day Sunday set aside for shooting waterfalls. I appreciate the technical & artistic tips.
    How were the fall colors? I’m looking forward to seeing the leaves change since I don’t get much of that here in Southern CA. Thanks.

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  • otto0713

    It would be great to have a metallic print of this beautiful shot-I would treasure it always.

  • Rick Dupler

    I’ve been following you since I saw you in Lansing, MI Last year. I love the sharpness of metal prints and how all the details just pop. The image you made with the falls would only be done justice by one of those awesome metal prints.

  • Brian Ullestad

    Love the print!! I have watched and learned so much from your Kelby Training videos. Is there a good way to ask you questions? I have tried without much luck.

    • Matt Kloskowski

      Just leave the question here :)

  • Belkys Corcino-Benison

    Love it! can’t wait to try it!

  • James Uhl

    They really keep your eye on the image, such deepth really awesome shots

  • JoanEJoan Feldvary

    Beautiful, just to beautiful….