One of the biggest photography interests in the NP for the different photographers are waterfalls, especially the larger ones which are usually set up for easy visiting by tourists. There are some excellent ones in Mount Rainier National Park, which are easily accessible from visitors areas (parking with a short hike) or a longer hike if you are prepared (additional information).
There are 63 waterfalls in the NP with official names out of the several hundred waterfalls in the NP, many of which are small on creeks and often rarely visited and recognized, in part because it depends how you define a waterfall significantly different than just a part of the stream channel with common riffles.
For the purpose of the suite of Web pages with this photo guide all of the waterfalls with official names and located on USGS topographic and NPS maps are included. Waterfalls identified in other sources are also used when the name is commonly recognized by several sources and can be accurately identified and located on a map and in the field.
The waterfalls listed here and on the map and list of waterfalls Web page are found on a variety of maps, such as USGS topographic and trails maps, and with many on-line and computer map packages for Washington state. Some are easy accessible waterfalls, marked below and are makered on the roads in the NP with relatively easy car parking and hiking trails to the waterfalls.
A Foldout photography guide and maps to the southern half and the northern half of Mt. Rainier NP, by Tom Haseltine, etal., has several of the easily accessible waterfalls on Highway 706 from either the Nisqually or Ohanapecosh Entrances. Additional information for 200 waterfalls in and around the Park is available from Waterfalls Northwest.
Carbon River Entrance, on Highway 165. Currently the road is closed at the Park Entrance, and all the waterfalls are only accessible along the trail which is currently being repaired from the damage from the November 2006 floods. There are several good waterfalls in the upper reaches and tributaries of the Carbon River, but it's a long dayhike or better, weekend or longer trip.
Everyone has seen photos of waterfalls, and many new photographers ask the obvious question, "How can I get photos like the professsionals?" Well, it's both easy and hard, it all depends on what type of camera you have and how much time and work you're willing to spend getting the images.
There are more than few photography guides for capturing waterfalls, a google search will produce a list of photographers with on-line guides, but I can provide a summary of the concensus of those guides, meaning they all have a lot in common that is general and universal. I will focus primarily on digital cameras and add a few comments for film photographers.
To start you will need a camera with sufficient features with manual mode where you can control the ISO, aperture and shutter speed in addition to different metering modes for the exposure and different white or color balance settings. A separate light meter is optional but often useful to overcomes the camera's built-in metering shortcomings.
The reason for manual mode and the camera controls is that most cameras won't take a good picture of a waterfall in automatic or program modes. This is due to the wide range of light with the moving water and scenery around the waterfall and the goal to get the misty look of the flow of the water over the waterfall.
The camera raw should have different image formats, specifically camera raw and best jpeg formats. This allows you the ability to make the full range of adjustments with the camera raw image and have the jpeg for easier processing if the images works for you.
In addition you will need a tripod, remote shutter release, and polarizing and neutral density filters. A fill-in or regular flash is optional and sometimes useful, explained later.
The first two things you need to do when photographing a waterfall is to assess the light and the scene. All the technology with the camera won't necessarily overcome these two factors, and without good light and a good scene, it's hard to get a decent image. After that the two factors which make a good photo are the waterfall and the area around the waterfall.
The problem with many waterfalls in Mt. Rainier NP is that they're often buried in forests, surrounded by trees and brush. This makes the range of light, from the bright highly reflective water to the deep browns and greens of the surrounding scene, near or past the dynamic range of cameras, and capturing the detail requires making the decisions about the ISO, exposure and any bracketing.
In many cases, the photographer's usual reaction is to shoot a high ISO to overcome the low light, but in reality you want to shoot the lowest ISO practical for the situation because you'll be slowing the shutter speed and higher ISO settings won't accomodate it for bracketing with the proper exposure
To bracket the image, meaning take the full range of shutter and aperture settings, such as each shutter speed step from 1/60th to 4 or longer seconds for the shutter speed and near the middle of the aperture range of the lens, usually f5.6 to f11 where the lens is optically at its best.
It's also handy to Exposure Value (EV) adjustment on the camera, usually in 1/3 to 1/2 f-stops. This allows bracketing the proper exposure around a specific initial shutter speed and aperture setting to darken or lighten the water or a part of the scene. Again, it's easy to try to take the extra images while you're there.
Before you say, "That's a lot of images?", consider with digital cameras and memory, images are cheap and I can guarrantee you will never regret taking too many, but always regret taking too few if none of them are good.
To accomplish the bracketing you will need the rest of your camera equipment. The tripod and remote shutter release to ensure you get the same exposure you want throughout the whole range of settings. And you will need filters to reduce the light through the lens sufficient to get the shutter speed slow enough for the flowing effect.
This is where a polarizing filter is handy to handle any unwanted reflections and one or more neutral density filter(s) or a variable filter is handy when you still want drop either the f-stop or shutter speed when hit the end of the lens' f-stop to maintain the proper exposure and still want to slow the shutter speed.
After that, it's the process then to spend time at the waterfall to see the light and compose the scene, and then capture the images. Sometimes you might decide another time of day would be better, but it shouldn't preclude staying for the existing light, as in the old adage, "I got the best image the light gave me."
I've been a film photographer for decades and still use a film camera with my digital camera. Over the years there has been a variety of films to shoot waterfalls, but the best tend to be in the ASA 25-100 range. Some photographers, like me, prefer to shoot color neutral film, Fuji Provia and Kodak Elite Chrome are my favorites, and some like color saturated films.
Film is where you learn the full use of your equipment and why filters are handy, as there will be a point you reach the end of your camera f-stop and film's ISO limits and still want to extend the exposure. It's where you might get into the film's reciprocity curves.
There's a lot more to say, but the best thing is to look at a lot of images as examples, but more importantly learn to see the image when you're standing there looking at the waterfall, but then take lots of shots. As the National Geographic photographers say, "Don't leave without the shot."
Additional resources and information on waterfalls in the Park are available from the following list.
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