Waterfall Tips and Hints
No preparation is really needed to visit a waterfall if you know where it is. However, for any serious waterfall trek, there are several things to keep in mind to make your trip more productive and enjoyable.
- Keep dry - It's easy to get wet while visiting a waterfall. Be sure to bring a spare pair of shoes and/or socks. If you are really ambitious, you can even bring a change of clothes. Check the list of useful clothing and equipment for more information.
- Be safe - Waterfalls are dangerous places. Wet rocks can cause broken bones. Fast currents can cause drownings. High cliffs can...well, you get the point. Check the list of safety tips in order to stay safe as you visit.
- Bring your camera - With the changing nature of waterfalls, you never know what you might want to record for all time. There are many photography tips that can help you get memorable records of your trip.
- Don't do to much in one day - If you only have one day to visit waterfalls, don't rush around trying to get in as many waterfalls as possible. Pick a few and spend your time relaxing near the falls instead of in the car.
- Courtesy is next to godliness - Well, maybe not. But remember to be courteous to other waterfall visitors. Most people visit waterfalls for peace and beauty. Swimming, sunbathing, and large groups disrupt that peace and can ruin someone else's trip. In particular, photographers can go crazy trying to get a shot of a waterfall when people are climbing on or swimming around a waterfall. This is not to say that swimming should not be done. However, be reasonable and aware of others. In addition, smoking ruins the whole "fresh air" bit for many people.
Equipment and Clothing Tips
Pendleton Falls #1
- Bring sturdy boots since many waterfall trails are muddy and some require water crossings.
- Bring water since it isn't advisable to drink stream water.
- Bring your camera as already noted above.
- Bring clothes you don't mind getting dirty since they WILL get dirty.
- Bring food since a waterfall is a perfect place to picnic after a long trip. Make sure to bring your trash back with you, though.
- Bring a map or clear directions since there is nothing worse to hiking to waterfall and not being able to find it.
- Bring a friend because hiking alone is boring. Well, not always but it is still a good idea from a safety standpoint.
- Be careful when rockhopping because, while fun and sometimes necessary, it's dangerous and slippery. At the very least, you could get your boots wet.
- Don't climb on the falls unless you are an experienced rock climber. Waterfalls are slippery and the top of a waterfall usually isn't too special.
- Be smart when swimming since cold waters and strong currents can end a life easily. Swimming should only be done in the calm pools below waterfalls and never never NEVER above a waterfall. Stop swimming at the first sign of any problems.
- Don't walk on the ice in the winter unless you are very sure that it is rock solid.
- Bring water. Yes, this was under the list of equipment as well, but dehydration is a real danger on long hikes.
- Use a single-lens-reflex camera. You know, one of those expensive ones with long lens where you have to focus and stuff. Besides taking better pictures, the most important advantage of SLR cameras is your ability to :
- Use a slow shutter speed. A shutter speed of 1/8 second or slower will blur the falling water, creating the soft streaming effect of professional waterfall photography. This effect is more pronounced in lower water volumes. Sometimes a very high shutter speed to stop the motion creates an interesting effect as well.
- Use a tripod. Handholding a shot with a slow shutter speed often blurs the picture. A tripod will keep the picture sharp. A cable release for the shutter will also prevent any unnecessary shaking of the camera as it takes the photograph.
- Use good film with a low ISO. A ISO (or speed of the film) of 100 or lower allows you to take photographs with a shutter speed of 1/8 second or slower in many light conditions. It also gives you a fine grain in your pictures which allows for higher quality enlargements. The speed of negative film only goes down to 100 ISO so if you wish to use a slower speed film, you will have to use slide film. I use Fuji Reala (ISO 100) for negative film and Fuji Velvia (ISO 50) for slide film.
- Overcast skies are your friend. The worse the weather, the better the pictures. I have taken many great pictures during light or even moderate rainfall. The sun will give your pictures an extra spark but will also make it harder to get a slow shutter speed because of the extra light. Sometimes in the forest the sun will also throw shadows on the waterfall, making it look odd.
- Overexpose a stop or two. All the white water in a waterfall often causes your camera's light meter to register a value which will make the water look gray rather than white. Open up a stop or two or take pictures at several different exposure settings. This also helps when including people in the photograph.
- Use a polarizing and/or warming filter. A polarizing filter will eliminate a lot of the glare on the rocks in the waterfall, creating a more attractive picture. A warming filter will eliminate the bluish tint that water can take in lower light conditions.
- Use lots of film on : rainbows and shots with fog in them. Rainbows and fog around waterfalls are infrequent events and should be taken advantage of! Both can be intensified or eliminated with polarizing filters.
- Do not waste photographs on : shots of very low volume waterfalls, shots with a great deal of surrounding terrain, and shots in-between noon and 2 o'clock on sunny day. The first two will usually result in photographs in which the waterfall is overshadowed by the surrounding terrain. In general, it is a good idea not to take a picture if you can't fill 30% to 40% of the frame with water. The last type of shot will almost always result in a bad picture unless the waterfall is in complete shade. This is because of the light which is coming directly from overhead.
- Take more than "front" shots. Many of the best waterfall photographs come from angles not directly in front of the waterfall. Side angles and diagonal angle can all create depth in photos that may not come from photos of the front.
- Be careful when taking a photograph. No photograph is worth endangering yourself for.
- Look in books. Hiking books and the occasional waterfall book will be your best source for finding waterfalls.
- Check road maps. Good maps will often list the most popular waterfalls and state parks with waterfalls in them. Plus, they will help you get where you are going when you do know where the waterfall is.
- Surf the Internet. Many state park systems list features of their state parks, including waterfalls. Plus, there are several waterfall web pages.
- Read guidebooks. A guidebook (e.g. AAA, etc) will sometimes have popular waterfalls listed.
- Keep your eyes open. I have run across many waterfalls by accident either by reading signs or seeing them from a distance. Roads with waterfalls on them are often named after the waterfall.
- Check every town with "Falls" in its name. Unfortunately, many towns with "Falls" in their name used to have waterfalls located in the town that have been dammed for electrical energy. However, this is not always true and you never know what you might find. Some dams don't intrude with the waterfall's beauty.
- Use topographic maps. Often pinpointing hard-to-find waterfalls is made much easier by using a topographic map. However, it's expensive and not always useful.
- Ask the locals. If you are the friendly sort, ask gas station attendants or pedestrians in small towns about the location of nearby waterfalls. There are several waterfalls that I would never have found if not for the help of some good Samaritan.
- Check out my list of Links and Resources. This list contains links to other related web pages as well as print resources that may help you find waterfalls.