North Carolina Highlands – Waterfalls
A photography trip to the Highlands of North Carolina is not complete until you have visited a few waterfalls. And western North Carolina has many waterfalls. Some are easy to access and some require you to scramble up rocks or down into ravines. Actually, Transylvania County in the southwestern county of North Carolina is full of them. If you go to the visitor center in Transylvania County they will give you a map of all the waterfalls above the North Carolina/South Carolina Line. You can find it here:
Land of Waterfalls – Transylvania County and Brevard, NC
While exploring the area of Grandfather Mountain, we had the opportunity to discover a few new waterfalls (to me). You can of course find these in the Kevin Adams book of North Carolina waterfalls called “North Carolina Waterfalls: A Hiking and Photography Guide”
The first waterfall we reached was one called Elk Falls in Elk Park. Elk Park is very near the Tennessee border on the northwest side of Grandfather Mountain on U.S. 19E. Following Old Mill Road, you will know you are close when you cross a bridge and a dog is stretched out right in the middle of the bridge. He raises his head to greet you but makes no attempt to get up move to the side. You must find room on the side for the car to pass by.
Once you get to the falls, you must navigate a small hike through woods to the falls and then walk out onto the rocks to get a better view. Because this falls was bathed in light on one side and shrouded in shadow on another side, I had to blend 2 images together in Photoshop. No problem if you know how. Open two images in Photoshop of the same exact scene, one exposed for the highlights and the other, exposed for the shadows. Using a layer mask and a paintbrush (PS) you can ‘paint’ back in the texture and color that was lost in the overexposed section of the falls. (For a detailed explanation, google Image Blending in Photoshop. There will be plenty of tutorials to teach you how.)
We travelled through Newland to the next falls. The town of Newland built a park around their waterfalls. Climb a few stairs and sit in front of the falls with your tripod set low and get close-ups. The falls are very picturesque and you can spend a long time taking the falls from all points. Very little sunlight reaches the falls so light spreads evenly across the falls making image blending unnecessary. Harsh sunlight on one area of the falls and shadow on another part causes exposure problems.
In order to get the smooth water look to waterfall photos, your shutter speed needs be slow: in the range of 30 seconds to a minute. A polarizer on your lens will reduce the glare on the rocks and saturate the color in the sky and leaves. Also, use an aperture of f/16 to get sharp focus from the front to the back of your subject.