Tag Archives: Waterfalls

Tokatee Falls Photography: Guide, Tips and a Warning

Until recently, I had never had the chance to visit Oregon, but this year I’ve been there twice…and it has made quite an impression on me:

It is a beautiful state.

It is a diverse state.

But it is an also odd state, where the government thinks adults are intelligent enough to use marijuana responsibility but they don’t trust you to pump your own gas (seriously, they have a state law that requires gas stations to have an attendant to pump your fuel)….but then again, I live in Florida and perhaps I shouldn’t be calling other states odd.

As a photographer, Oregon’s big attraction is waterfalls.  They have tons of them.  And the ones they have are among the most photogenic in the country…if not the world.  Take a look at any Top Ten list of Beautiful Waterfalls and you will likely find at least a couple that are in Oregon.

Most folks like waterfalls, and others, like my son Ryan, absolutely love them.  So when Ryan and I planned our trip across the Pac NW earlier this year, he made sure that we included more than a few waterfalls.  The first we explored turned out to be one of our favorites of the trip: Toketee Falls.

Tokatee Falls Photography:  Guide, Tips and a Warning

The ‘classic’ view of Tokatee. An incredible sight.

Tokatee Falls is located in Central Oregon and isn’t as well known as the more publicized waterfalls in the Columbia River Valley.  But we had seen some photos on-line that got our attention and since it was only about 30 miles from Crater Lake National Park (where our trip had started) we decided to take a morning and check it out.

The name, Tokatee, is a native Chinook word meaning “pretty” or “graceful”…and it certainly is well named.  It is a beautiful, classical waterfall that drops 120 feet in two stages thru a wall carved from ancient columnar basalt.

Oddly enough, the thing that might have been the most memorable, wasn’t the waterfall.  Even before we got out of our car in the parking lot, this grabbed my attention:

This pipeline was built the same year of the Berlin Airlift, the year that Mao established Communist China, the year gas was 17cents per gallon….

This is a 12′ wide redwood aqueduct that diverts a good portion of a major river (the North Umpqua) to a hydroelectric plant.  What is really amazing is that it was built in 1949 and is still in use!  It runs right alongside the trailhead parking lot and as you get out of your car you will immediately notice the leaks. Since it holds a massive amount of water under high pressure those leaks become jets of water, some shooting over 15’…much to the delight of every child (and childlike adult).  Makes for a nice way to cool off on a hot day!  Check out my amateurish 15 second You Tube video if you want to see more:   https://youtu.be/kyc0MStQtpw

The half mile hike to the falls was easy…there is a bit of elevation change (200 steps) but it was shaded and the woods were beautiful.  At the end of the trail there is a new observation deck that has a killer view Toketee.

This is the same image you will see in 99% of the images on Google.  And with good reason…it is impressive.  Nearly all tourists and photographer snap a few shots here, then turn around and go back.  Which is exactly what I planned to do.  Except, when I finished my shots…Ryan was gone.  After a few confused minutes of looking around, I finally noticed him…all the way down at the base of the falls.   Since I knew his mother would never let me rest peacefully if I returned without him, I strapped the tripod to my back and started looking for the way down.  Mistake.  There is no way down.  At least not an official one and the only “path” was what locals call “a scramble.”  What I would call it is not printable.  Let’s just say it is little more than a slippery, controlled fall down a steep muddy slope.  After a couple minutes that voice in the back of my head started whispering:  “This is stupid…You are going to get hurt…You are smarter than this!!!”  But I’m really not that smart…plus my fear of my wife is a heck of lot louder than that silly little voice. So off I went.

I managed to get down without injury…and without loosing control of my bladder (which was kind of a close thing a couple times).

From the base of the falls, after my jackhammering heart slowed down, I raised my head and took in the view.

Tokatee Falls Photography:  Guide, Tips and a Warning

Ryan enjoys a Killer View…as in “I nearly got my ‘Old Man’ killed getting to this view”

It was humbling.  Over the ages the waterfall has carved a deep gouge in the solid rock wall.  And below it blasted out a huge bowl in the basalt.  Standing at the bottom of this ‘bowl’ you are surrounded by tall columns of the volcanic rock that reflects and amplifies the sound of smashing water.  To say it is loud misses the point… more like you can feel your ribcage reverberating within your chest.   Truly visceral!


2015 PAC NW  08 09 0884_HDRAfter your ears adjust to the volume, your eyes start to take into account the scale of the place.  Rather than looking at the whole vista, examine this close-up of the wall next to the waterfall:

Tokatee Falls Photography:  Guide, Tips and a Warning

See that fully grown tree on the right?   Now you are starting to get an idea of how massive the columns of basalt are that make up the wall of this gorge!

Tokatee Falls Photography:  Guide, Tips and a Warning

This was a challenging shot from a technical perspective. I had to balance the wide dynamic range and also focus stack 5 different shots to keep things sharp throughout the image.

Ryan and I spent nearly an hour soaking in the view.  Not another soul made their way down to the base of the falls (clearly they had better sense than we did.)  Although we saw a lot more waterfalls over the next week, Tokatee was one of the most memorable.  It has a wonderful balance of size, power and pure aesthetic beauty.   I hope you get to visit and photograph this treasure in the future.

Just for the record.  Although I used humor when I wrote about getting to the base of the falls, I want to clearly state that I do NOT recommend that you try to do so.  The ‘trail’ is not safe in its current condition. I have no doubt that someone will be seriously injured (or worse) trying to reach the falls.  I wish that the powers-that-be would invest the funds necessary to make an ‘official’ trail to the base, but that hasn’t happened yet.   Listen to that little voice in your head:  No photograph is worth serious injury.

Tips for my fellow photographers:

1)  When to visit?  Spring is the best.  Snowmelt makes for impressive volumes of water and everything is green.  However, most the shots in this blog were taken in June and as you can see, the water volume was still adequate and the vegetation vibrant.

2)  Be there in the morning so you can photograph the falls while in the shade.  The falls face west and as the day progresses, you will get direct sunlight on the face of the falls which makes photography more difficult.

3)  If you are shooting from the observation platform with a full frame camera, you will need about a 60mm lens to get a nice full image shot of the falls (about 40mm on a cropped APS-C sensor camera).  If you decide to shoot from the base (assuming you ignore my warning)  you will need a 27-40mm for most shots (15-20mm on crop sensor). There is a lot of spray at the base, bring some microfiber cloths to dry your lens between shots.

4)  You will need your tripod.  Since you will want to photograph while the falls are in the shade, you will need a tripod for longer exposure times, especially if you want the waterfall to have that ‘silky’ look.  My first shot in this blog, for example, was a 4 second exposure.  Most of the other shots were HDRs.

5)  Don’t forget your polarizer.  It will help reduce glare and make the colors ‘pop.’

6)  How to get there?  At milepost 58.6 on Highway 138 east of Roseburg Oregon, turn north on Road 34. Stay left at the Y and cross the bridge. A well-marked trailhead is 200 feet on the left.

7)  If you do go to the base of the falls, take a rope and a first aid kit.  Don’t go alone.  Leave an address for your next of kin on the dash of the car.

This is a beautiful location…enjoy!



 Tokatee Falls Photography:  Guide, Tips and a Warning

Tokatee Falls Photography:  Guide, Tips and a Warning

Posted in Pacific Northwest USA Also tagged , |

North Georgia Photo Trip: Waterfall Photo Tips and Guide

Last week I had a conference in Atlanta and found myself with a free day afterwards.  Of course I’d brought my camera gear (Question: “How do you know when you are a photographer?   Answer:  When you travel with two large backpacks stuffed with photo gear and a single miniscule bag with the unimportant stuff (like medicine, clothes and toiletries!”)

In years past, I’d already hit metro Atlanta’s photo spots (the Zoo, Aquarium, Stone Mountain,  Botanical Gardens, etc) and besides, I really wanted to get out of the city.  A fellow photographer had told me that there were neat waterfalls in the Georgia mountains only about an hour and a half from Atlanta, so the next morning I got in the car and headed north.  Oddly enough, although I’ve driven thru the area dozens of times, I had never stopped to explore it before.

Toccoa Falls

North Georgia Photo Trip: Waterfall Photo Tips and Guide

Taccoa Falls…only 95 miles north of Atlanta!

My first stop was Toccoa Falls which is on the grounds of a private university (Toccoa Falls College).  Although not well known, I was surprised to learn that Toccoa is one of the larger falls east of the Mississippi with a drop of 186’ (57m).  After a brief five minute walk up a gravel path, I came upon the view you see above. Unlike Niagara or Yosemite, Toccoa doesn’t overwhelm you with grandeur, but its smaller scale makes it somehow more intimate and personal. It certainly wasn’t crowded, I saw only a few other folks during my Tuesday morning visit.

The setting is certainly peaceful, but it was the site of tragedy in 1977 when a dam burst upstream of the falls sweeping 39 people to their deaths.  You will see a granite memorial inscribed with the victims names located on the trail

Photo Tips:

North Georgia Photo Trip: Waterfall Photo Tips and Guide

Gate Cottage: Park next to this this building

Finding the falls was a bit of a challenge.  My GPS tried to take me off-road when I typed in “Toccoa Falls.”  Instead, use Toccoa Falls College in Toccoa, Georgia as your GPS destination.  This is a small, quiet campus and you will find plenty of signs directing you to the falls.  Drive to the end of Forrest Drive and park when you see the “Gate Cottage.”  It opens at 8am and there is a small admission fee (I think it was $2).  Here is a link to Google Maps that you might find helpful.

The best time of the day for photography is either right after sunrise while the falls are totally shaded or mid-morning when the entire falls are illuminated.  Often the sun is already hitting the falls by the time the Gate Cottage opens, so you might not really have a choice.  Although most waterfalls are best photographed on overcast days or when shaded, I think Toccoa is an exception to that rule.

The best vantage spot for photography might be among the easiest to get to.  Just walk to the base of the falls at the end of the gravel path.   There are some large flat rocks in the water and if you set up your tripod on top of them you will be treated to a really nice perspective of the Falls.  There is a also a small (and slippery) trail running up the left side of the falls.  I took a number of shots along the trail, but none of those viewpoints are as nice as the first one I mentioned.  I didn’t see an easy way to get to the other side of the stream, I might give it a try the next time I visit to see if the views are good from that angle.

Experiment with different shutter speeds to see the resulting effect on moving water.  Personally, I often use HDR since it allows me to capture the attractive ‘silky’ look of rushing water and the full dynamic range often present in waterfalls (especially when in direct sunlight).

Back Road SurprisesNorth Georgia Photo Trip: Waterfall Photo Tips and Guide

On my way to my next stop, 2014  Georgia Waterfalls  May 13 00099_ hwy 255 1 mile n of 114I rolled down the windows and enjoyed the cool morning as I rode small two lane country roads.  At the junction of Hwy 255 and 115, I saw a sign for the Stoval Mills Covered Bridge and took a 3 mile detour. As covered bridges go, it wasn’t terribly impressive, but they are a rare sight in the south and worth a photo.

The barn on the photo to the right resulted in another unplanned stop a few minutes down the road.  I loved the brilliant field of yellow flowers contrasted against the green hill and blue sky.

Anna Ruby Falls

North Georgia Photo Trip: Waterfall Photo Tips and Guide

Disappointing Panorama

After a leisurely hour drive from Toccoa,  I passed the quaint (and tourist intensive) Alpine village of Helen and reached the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.  My goal was Anna Ruby Falls, which is actually two separate streams that fall over the same granite cliff, then merge before heading to the Chattahoochee River and finally concluding its journey 500 miles later in the Gulf of Mexico.   It was a much shorter trip for me:  I was setting up my tripod after a short (.8 mile) walk on the asphalt trail.

I photographed the falls for nearly an half hour, but to be honest, I wasn’t able to find a perspective that attractively showed both falls.  Trees and the walkway seemed to conspire to block my shots and it wasn’t until I gave up on a ‘grand panorama’ and instead concentrated on smaller views of the site that it began to yield some decent frames.

North Georgia Photo Trip:  Waterfall Photo Tips and Guide

Once you look for details. there is plenty to photograph!

This is a very popular location: you won’t find yourself alone.  Nonetheless, the area is beautiful and the park is well maintained by the US Forest Service.

Photo Tips:

North Georgia Photo Trip:  Waterfall Photo Tips and GuideThis link will take you to a Google Map that will help you find the falls.  North Georgia Photo Trip:  Waterfall Photo Tips and GuideYou actually first drive through Unicoi State Park before you reach a small guard shack near the parking lot for Anna Ruby Falls ($3 entrance fee).

You might be able to capture both falls in a single shot in the winter when the trees are bare, otherwise, concentrate on smaller sections of the view.  The wonderful cascades you will pass on the path to the falls will likely keep you entertained as well.

Minnehaha Falls

Another hour in the car and I found what turned out to be my favorite location of the day:  Minnehaha Falls.  It was an adventure even finding this one…my directions eventually took me down a poorly marked, remote and twisting gravel road.  Believe it or not, I actually had a pack of howling dogs chase my car for a bit.  If I had heard somebody playing banjo music right about then, I would have had my Prius rocketing down that road like a 4×4 Monster Truck!   I was about to give up and turn around when I noticed this wood walkway on the side of road.

North Georgia Photo Trip: Waterfall Photo Tips and Guide

Can you see “To Minnehaha” carved into the handrail? Easy to miss…but it is your only clue!

This small trail marker was next to the handrail...but it is nearly impossible to see from the road

This small trail marker was next to the handrail…but it is nearly impossible to see from the road

The walkway led to a short dirt trail (6/10th of  mile each way) and the soothing sounds of falling water intensified with each step.  I didn’t see a soul at the falls…it was certainly the least visited and most isolated location of the day.  When I pushed aside the last branch at the end of the trail, I could see that Minnehaha is really a huge series of cascades…not a ‘classic’ vertical waterfall.   Although the total height is only 60 feet, the falls widen with every 4 foot drop and it is impressively wide by the time it settles into a pool at the bottom.  It is an exceptionally beautiful and tranquil setting.  I wish I could have stayed for hours

North Georgia Photo Trip: Waterfall Photo Tips and Guide

I let the lightly colored rounded boulders at the end of the cascade anchor the bottom right corner of the image. Overall, Minnehaha is one of the most photogenic waterfalls I have seen anywhere.

Photo Tips:

  1. First of all, don’t get these falls confused with the better known Minnehaha Falls located in Minnesota!   Click on this linkto access an interactive map.  The map should help get you to Seed Lake Road which runs along Crow Creek. However, I found that things got a bit confusing after that.  Here are some details that will help make it a bit easier for you:
    • Once you turn off Seed Lake Road onto Low Gap Rd, you will immediately cross a bridge over Crow Creek (you can see the small Nacoochee Dam to the right from the bridge).
    • About 500’ past the bridge, you will turn left onto a dirt road called Bear Gap Rd.  This road runs along the south bank of Crow Creek (it looked like a river to me).
    • Continue 1.7 miles. After a sharp left turn, watch the hillside on the right for that handrail inscribed with “To Minnihaha”.
    • Parking is nothing more than a wide shoulder on the left side of the dirt road.
  2. The falls are heavily shaded and receive little direct sunlight.  This means you won’t have severe problems with dynamic range which is often the case with waterfalls caught in direct sunlight.  No need to wait for an overcast day.
  3. The hillsides on either side of the falls are filled with rhododendron which bloom in mid to late May (if only I had been there two weeks later!)

Final Thoughts

I only had 8 hours available for this daytrip, but there are other photogenic locations in the area (like Amicalola Falls, Tallulah Gorge, Ravens Cliff Falls and many more).  One thing is for sure, on my next fall trip to the Smokies, I certainly won’t be driving nonstop like I have in the past…I’ll be stopping for a day or two in the mountains of north Georgia!


 North Georgia Photo Trip:  Waterfall Photo Tips and Guide

North Georgia Photo Trip:  Waterfall Photo Tips and Guide

Posted in Southeast U.S.A., Waterfalls Also tagged |

Little Surprises: Little Wailua Falls…Maui’s Subtle Hidden Treasure

One of the lessons I’ve (painfully) learned over the years, is to be open to the unexpected and unplanned.  Honestly, it isn’t an easy lesson for me.  By nature, I’m a planner..perhaps excessively so (at least my wife THINKS so!).   My perspective has always been:  This might be a once-in-a-lifetime trip…what if there is a killer photo op two miles away but I don’t know about it!  So often I leave on a trip with a twenty page itinerary complete with maps, notes, GPS coordinates and more.

On the other hand, I honestly have to admit that much of my best work has been the result of an unplanned opportunity (or flat-out, total mistakes).  Like this shot below:

Little Surprises:  Little Wailua Falls...Maui's Subtle Hidden Treasure

To see this shot in full resolution, just click on it with your mouse.

I love this photograph.  Of the dozens or so huge, magnificent, incredible waterfalls I photographed on a recent trip to Hawaii, this quiet, secluded, almost miniature cascade is by far my favorite.

It happened like this:  My wife and I had stayed overnight in Hana so I could get some sunrise shots.  I had planned to photograph Wailua Falls (about 7 1/2 miles south of Hana) since it was right on our the way to the trailhead for a hike we were making later that morning to Waimoku Falls (another 400′ tropical wonder). When we got to Wailua Falls (here is a link to a map on Google Earth) it was obvious that over 99% of the photographs falls are taken from the bridge which runs right in front of it.   So I decided to hike down to the base of the falls and get a shot with a different perspective…but I made a mistake.  I knew from my pre-trip research that there was trail from the bridge to the falls but I didn’t know where it started.  I looked around and spotted one just past the bridge (west) on the ocean side (south) of the road.  After ten minutes of slipping and sliding down a wet and muddy slope, I had worked my way back to the bridge…which is where I found this delightful little pool.  As it turns out, I couldn’t get any closer to the big falls from this trail (apparently, the correct trail is on the other (north) side of the road).

Little Surprises:  Little Wailua Falls...Maui's Subtle Hidden Treasure

View from the other side of the pool

And here is where I got my second unplanned gift.  The best thing (to me) about this shot are the streaks caused by the the swirling leaves in the pool.  I had seen this before in work done by other photographers, but I hadn’t ever done it myself.  Honestly, I didn’t even notice at the time that the leaves were moving. But since the spot was very dark, I took a series of seven bracketed shots hoping that HDR would be able to capture what little light there was.  A couple weeks later when I processed the shot with HDR , I was shocked to see that the slowly moving leaves were now wonderful looping swirls of color.  In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that that seven shots, taken over a two or three minute timeframe, would transform the languidly moving leaves into mesmorizing streaks of color.

So there.  I didn’t know this little falls even existed and I had no idea that the HDR would result in the beautiful leaf swirls.  Despite that, the result was far better than my hundreds of well-planned shots of other, more impressive and well-known waterfalls.

The moral of the story?  Planning is vital and it will dramatically increase your chances of great captures, but don’t be a slave to your plans or ‘pre-visualized’ shots.  Keep one eye open for the unexpected…and see what happens!

Have a great Holiday and may all your surprises be happy ones!

PS: Here is a shot of Waimoku Falls from later that same morning.  It is an incredible vista (yes, that little green dot at the base of the falls is my long-suffering wife Anita waving at me)!

Little Surprises:  Little Wailua Falls...Maui's Subtle Hidden Treasure

A human figure sure helps you get a sense of scale! Click on the photo to see it in FULL resolution!

 Little Surprises:  Little Wailua Falls…Maui’s Subtle Hidden Treasure


Posted in Hawaii, Landscape Photography, Waterfalls Also tagged , , |