Friday, November 16, 2018

The Cascadilla Gorge Trail in Ithaca, New York: Autumn Landscape Photographs and Tips for Capturing Moving Water

"Nature is a source of truth. Experience does not ever err, it 
is only your judgment that errs in promising itself results 
which are not caused by your experiments." 
-Leonardo Da Vinci 

Early this past Saturday morning I spent two hours photographing the Cascadilla Gorge Trail, in Ithaca, New York. The combination of cascading water and autumn color was truly beautiful. As it had snowed the night before, and a cold drizzle fell as I drove to the gorge, I was lucky that the clouds began to clear as I arrived.  While I walked and photographed in the gorge, there was a stretch of nice, filtered light (although it remained quite cold - in the mid-30s) before another stretch of snow later that morning.  I started at the Treman Triangle Park entrance to the gorge (off of Linn Street), and worked my way up the trail.  Below are nine of my new images of the Cascadilla Gorge, followed by several tips to improve your photographs of waterfalls and cascading water.

1) Cascadilla Gorge in Autumn, Ithaca, New York.
2) Cascadilla Gorge in Autumn, Ithaca, New York.
3) Cascadilla Gorge in Autumn, Ithaca, New York.
4) Cascadilla Gorge in Autumn, Ithaca, New York.
5) Cascadilla Gorge in Autumn, Ithaca, New York.
6) Cascadilla Gorge in Autumn, Ithaca, New York.
7) Cascadilla Gorge in Autumn, Ithaca, New York.
8) Cascadilla Gorge in Autumn, Ithaca, New York.
9) Cascadilla Gorge in Autumn, Ithaca, New York.

Tips to Improve Your Photographs of Moving Water

In my images above, I tried to give the flowing water a soft, white, silky appearance (rather than trying to "freeze" the movement).  To create beautiful photographs of the cascading water in Cascadilla Creek, or any waterfall, here are a few tips.

1) Use a Tripod.  As you will need to use slow shutter speeds, its important to avoid camera movement. You want the land, rock and trees to appear crisp and sharp, in contrast the moving water. Whenever I use a tripod, I also use and external shutter release.  This avoids pushing (and possibly moving) the camera.

2) As with any photograph you need to find the correct balance between ISO, shutter speed and aperture.  The key to achieving the silky appearance in moving water is finding the right shutter speed.  For each of the images above, I used the following settings: 
     a) a low ISO (100 or 200).
     b) a slow shutter speed (between three-tenths of a second and
     half a second).
     c) a small aperture (for these images, my aperture ranged 
     between f/14 and f/29).  This allowed a wide depth of field, 
     so both the foreground and background are sharp.

3) Experiment.  Different situations require slightly different settings, so you will need to experiment and make minor adjustments.  After each shot, I checked the image on the LCD to see if the water appeared silky, to see if there was some detail in the water, and to make sure the highlights were not blown (overexposed and all white, with no detail).

4) Vary your composition and emphasis. For some images, I tried to give the viewer a broad perspective of the setting, usually with a wide angle lens.  These images have foreground and background elements (e.g. images 2, 4, 6 and 9).  For other images, I tried to isolate a small section (e.g. images 3, 7, and 8).  Additionally, I tried to incorporate other compositional guidelines (leading lines, rule of thirds, filling the frame, diagonals, etc.).

5) Be Patient.  While I was in Cascadilla Gorge, there were fairly frequent gusts of wind.  If I was shooting a scene with trees, the wind meant that the leaves and branches were moving.  As I was using a slow shutter speed, the leaves and branches would appear blurry in my photograph, and diminish the overall image.  I often had to wait a few moments for the wind to die down.  It generally pays to be patient, take a few shots, and keep checking your LCD.  Similarly, for my landscapes, I usually do not want people in the images.  If folks happen to walk into an area while I am shooting, it pays to wait until they pass out of the frame.

6) You generally want soft, filtered light, so its best to shoot in the early morning or late afternoon.  The early morning has the added benefit of having fewer people along the trail.

I hope these simple tips help to inspire your creativity.