There’s a Photo in Here Somewhere: Glade Creek Falls, New River Gorge National Park, WV

Last October, Mary and I spent two weeks on the road in Ohio, West Virginia, and Tennessee to photograph Fall color. In some places we were too early and in others, too late. There had not been a good rainy season and it had stayed warm late into the month of October. That notwithstanding, we had a great trip and some of the best color was actually on the ground. Here’s how I made this photo.

The lower Glade Creek Falls is a pretty flat 2 mile hike along Glade Creek that feeds into the New River. When the water is running high, the falls encompass the entire rock fall from each end of the creek. While we were there, we had two small falls on either end. Here’s what it looked like as we walked up to the falls.

Our teacher and mentor Jack Graham says that the worst thing you can give a new photographer is a wide angle lens and here is a sample of why that is true. This photo is pretty enough. The trees in the background are a little blown out, but there is some color there. The waterfall has a nice swoosh look which indicates a long shutter speed to blur the water, and there is a nice yellow reflection in the foreground. The right edge of the photo is heavy with the bright gray rock and the black rock in the upper corner (these could have been cropped out). And yet, this photo does not work. There is too much to see. The eye wanders all over. Jack would ask me, “what is the subject here? This is better known as the “encyclopedia” shot. No bueno: keep looking.

The waterfall on the right side has more water, but nothing else interesting to see, so I concentrated on the waterfall on the left. Here, we have some color in the foreground and the colorful leaves on the ground. It still seems a bit heavy to me. Sometimes, the best shot is from the middle of the river, but it was too deep for my liking.

One compositional option to make subjects more interesting is shooting them from a low point or shooting them from a high point. I could not get any lower into the river, so I looked for a high point. Remember that big black rock on the left side of the frame in the “encyclopedia” photo? To Mary’s chagrin, I climbed to the top of it with tripod and camera and pointed right down on the falls. From this vantage point, I was also able to put some of the fall color from the trees into the frame and really accentuate the leaves on the ground.

The subject is still the waterfall, but now I have two other interesting elements in the photo: The yellow and green leaves on the trees and the orange leaves on the ground. Look at how the black rocks and tree roots jump out at you as a contrast to the orange leaves.

New River Gorge is our newest National Park. It’s a bit hard to get to. The main town to stay in is Fayetteville, WV. It is not a large town and does not have infrastructure to handle large crowds typical of a national park. The good news is the park is quite spread out with many destinations to look at – the New River, the Gorge, the bridge. We had several pleasant hikes and experienced several great look outs.

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