Great Egret

Great Egret

Sunday, 8 March 2015

The photographic appeal of falling water

I'll come right out and admit it---I am fascinated by waterfalls. Maybe it is because I live in such a flat part of Ontario, where there is so little topographic relief that waterfalls seem so foreign to me. How flat is it you ask.....I mean it is so flat, that some rural drains have to have the water pumped out since there isn't enough water flow to drain out on its own! Whatever the reason, I will go out of my way to check out waterfalls and see them at different times of the year. And sometimes when the birds and other wildlife aren't terribly abundant, a waterfall can be a fascinating diversion to focus my energy and the camera on.

As in any landscape photography scenario, light is critical, and it is constantly changing. To really get an appealing outcome, one has to plan ahead for it. Bright contrasting light is generally unsatisfactory for most of the settings unless it is entirely out in the open, at least for the way I like to capture them. If at all possible I purposely choose an overcast day where the light is more even.  Cloudy bright is probably ideal, just to get a bit of shadow for effect.

For most waterfalls, I like a sense of water movement, giving a silky smooth look. That means low light, a slow shutter speed, no wind, a camera body with mirror lock-up, a cable release and a sturdy tripod. Sometimes a neutral density filter helps out, which cuts out the light by several stops, enabling some photos to be as long as 30 seconds. Most of the time one can get away with shutter speeds of as fast as 0.8 seconds, but usually one or two seconds works well.Obviously under these conditions, hand-holding a camera will not work, so a good solid tripod is necessary.

Some people use a very small f/stop, even as small as f/22, to result in a slower shutter speed. I prefer an f/stop in the f/8 to f/11 range, since that is typically the sharpest f/stop of most lenses......going too small, will invariably compromise the sharpness of the image.

A word of caution: One has to remember that slopes near waterfalls are sometimes unstable, wet, often muddy and slippery. There is definitely a risk to life and limb in getting too close, as well as a risk to expensive camera gear!

There is one great little waterfall not too far from home. It is at Rock Glen Conservation Area, at the edge of Arkona, east of Sarnia and only a little more than an hour away from home. It is a treat at any time of the year, although in mid summer the water may just be a gentle trickle.

Rock Glen in November--view from downstream

Rock Glen in February--view from the stairs
But for most waterfalls I would have to travel at least 3-4 hours to get to. There is a wonderful selection at various spots along the Niagara Escarpment.

Of course one of the best known waterfalls in the whole world is this next one, a combination of Niagara Falls on the right and the American Falls on the left. It is a panoramic photo stitch, and is at the southern end of the Niagara Escarpment in Ontario.

Hamilton is often referred to as the 'city of waterfalls' since there are sooooo many to choose from in the greater Hamilton area. Some are small and delicate, some are large and powerful. The ones along the escarpment are often known as 'plunge' falls, since the erosive action of the falling water undermines the weaker rock material below so that the water seldom touches any other rock material before it gets to the bottom. Sometimes the water may plunge in several stages.

Considerably smaller than Niagara -- and what falls in Ontario isn't -- is Felker's Falls. It is adjacent to a municipal park next to a subdivision.
Felker's Falls
 This next one doesn't even have a name that I am aware of. I came across it on my way to get to a lower vantage point to photograph Rockway Falls.

Sherman Falls is very much a favourite of mine, and very accessible. A good trail leads to an excellent viewing point about 200-300 metres from the small parking area.
Sherman Falls
 Tiffany Falls is another very accessible one, and just a short distance from Sherman Falls.
Tiffany Falls
 About 300 metres upstream from Tiffany Falls is Washboard Falls, obviously named by the gentle change in the rock strata which resembles a washboard.
Washboard Falls

Washboard Falls close-up
At the other end of the scale is Webster's Falls. It is large and almost always has a good volume of water going over. I didn't use a slow shutter speed for this, as I wanted to capture the feeling of size and power. To get an idea of its size, look closely at the upper right of the falls to see some people.
Webster's Falls
There are many more falls to search out in the Hamilton area.

A bit farther north along the escarpment north of Hwy 401 in the Milton area are a few others. This first one is Hilton Falls. It is a pleasant 25 minute walk from the parking lot along a forest trail in the conservation area by that name.

Hilton Falls
 While looking for another falls, I came across this tiny one along the road side. Some folks may not even recognize it as a true waterfalls, but even though it is small, it has its own delicate character. I don't know if it has an official name or not. I've called it Snow Creek Falls, as I believe the trickle of water is part of Snow Creek.

Farther north yet along the escarpment there are some impressive falls. Right at the edge of the town of Durham is McGowan Falls. One has to choose certain angles to keep man-made objects out of the view, however.

McGowan Falls
Another favourite one of mine is Hoggs Falls, just a bit east of Flesherton. It is not known by many, although most times when I have visited there has been one or two others there. The first view is from the upper level.
Hoggs Falls
For the more adventurous, there is sometimes a rope available to climb down a slippery slope via tree roots and rocks. The view from the lower level is worth it, but the risk isn't for everyone!  
Hoggs Falls lower vantage point
One of the best known waterfalls along the escarpment is Inglis Falls, near Owen Sound. To get an idea of scale, look at the people at the upper right hand side as they sit on the rocks beside the falling water.
Inglis Falls
One that takes a little more effort to get to, and therefore is not busy, is Indian Falls, a few kilometres north of Owen Sound. It requires good sturdy hiking footwear, and is about a 20 minute walk from the parking lot yet even the walk which involves a bit of climbing is quite enjoyable.
Along the trail to Indian Falls
This is definitely one where you want overcast conditions, as otherwise the light is very contrasting, and you have to look into it.
Indian Falls
There are other falls in southwestern Ontario, which I may get to in a future post. And I will definitely try to show some of the ones I've explored in eastern and north-central Ontario!


  1. Wonderful. Peace and tranquillity. Very hard to see the people (good) but I saw many tree and rock faces every where.
    Love and blessings, Paula

    1. Hi Paula....thanks for the visit and comments. I imagine there are lots of impressive waterfalls in your part of the world!