Quick Shot: Elakala Falls Adventure

October 27th.... this trip was all about fall colors. Autumn is in full swing around northern Virginia, so I decided to plan an extended day trip to really capture the great colors. Instead, I got snow......


I decided to head to Blackwater Falls State Park in Davis, West Virginia. I'd been there earlier in the year and thought the waterfalls would look great surrounded by bright orange and red trees. In anticipation of great colors, I'd purchased some new 35mm film that I could take with to shoot both digital and film of the colors. Unfortunately, when loading the film into the old Minolta, the film advance lever broke, so it was a digital only kinda day. 

This morning:

I set the alarm for 6am and rolled out the door with Davis, West Virginia as the destination. The weather was expected to be chilly, but pleasant. I loaded the car with all the essentials and a pair of knee high rain boots. The boots were in case I wanted to wade into the water, but not soak my feet.

The drive: 

With each mile that ticked by on my odometer, I was getting more excited. The further into the Shenandoah region I went, the more vibrant the trees became. My mind was racing with all of the possible shots I could/would take in short order. 

The final leg of the drive takes you up a steep mountain and past a series of power plants (gotta have your West Virginia coal)! Although they aren't "pretty" subjects, I enjoy driving next to these power plants and wondering if that plant supplies my electricity at home.  

Right as I clear the power plants, I look around and realize there are no more colors. 

Just gray

Not even pretty gray

No leaves

and SNOW! 

If I wasn't just 10 miles from my destination, I might have stopped and done a u-turn. My car flashed the snowflake symbol that apparently indicated I'd left a pleasant fall day and arrived abruptly in winter. 

I decided to keep the hope. Maybe, just maybe, the park was in a "safe area" where the leaves where still clinging to trees, despite the drop in temperature and recent snowfall. 

The disappointment: 

My prayers were not going to be answered by the photo gods today. The park was like the surrounding area - every tree (that wasn't evergreen) was naked. But I didn't drive all that way to come out empty handed, so I shelved the original plan and started a backup. 

Elakala Falls: 

This was my favorite spot during the last visit. The falls aren't "technically" accessible from the base, but years of explorers have made a crude trail down the side of a cliff to photograph the falls from below. Unfortunately, I didn't realize how wet it would be at the bottom of a waterfall, so I was stuck shooting from the rocks during my last visit. This time, however, I packed my rain boots so that I could wade into the river to get the shots I wanted. This comes with the obvious risk of falling or having your equipment take a swim, but it's worth the risk! 

Despite the recent snow, there was enough sun to melt any snowfall around the falls themselves, so I could take the photos and "pretend" I wasn't resting my backpack against snow.  

This shot: 

To get this shot, I pulled on the rain boots and slogged out to the middle of the stream. I had to be careful not to let the ice cold water get into my boots as I stepped and had to avoid dropping the camera as I teetered from rock-to-rock. After getting tangled in a fallen branch and almost having a catastrophic spill, I arrived at my destination for this shot. 

I wanted the viewer to know this photo was taken from mid-stream, and I think I successfully achieved that look by actually being mid-steam when I took the shot! I also wanted to take a long exposure to make the flows and stream really flow. There are these swirling pools in the steam and I positioned the camera to catch the swirls from the frothy water. 

This image was taken with my Nikon D800 & Nikon 24-70mm lens with an ND8 neutral density filter. It was taken at ISO 100, f/22 for 20 seconds! 

Next time:

I'm coming three weeks sooner! I'd rather have pre-autumn leaves than no leaves at all!