Saturday, June 14, 2014

Cumberland Falls -- Kentucky's Gem

Corbin, Kentucky's claim to fame is that it's the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken, the finger-licking artery-clogging fast food pioneered by Col. Harlan Sanders.  But a nearby gem is Cumberland Falls State Park, a state "resort" park worth a visit even if dining in its lodge is a step or two below its West Virginia cousins.

It's a short walk from the parking area to the viewpoint overlooking the falls.  I don't recommend shooting from close in because of vandalism and dumping trash that simply isn't very photogenic.  Moving back eliminates that problem.

Cumberland Falls, Fujjifilm X-E2, 18-55mm

Several times a year the night sky will allow for "moonbow" shots.  Also not a bad place for fall color and sunrise shots, particularly on a foggy day.

Almost Heaven - Blackwater Falls, West Virginia

There's an interesting misperception about scenic photography that someone these great shot opportunities somehow mysteriously happen and occasionally it's true that you'll wind up in the right place at the right time with the right camera and lens combination at your disposal.  Most of the time, though, the better places require planning, a healthy dose of logistics and being there when the light is right (and sometimes that light may only exist for a matter of seconds).
Blackwater Falls, Fujifilm X-E2, 18-55mm, circular polarizer

One of those places where some grueling logistics pays off is Blackwater Falls located in the West Virginia state park of the same name which is about a four hour drive from Washington, D.C.
If you arrive right at sunrise you will walk down a total of 214 steps (mercifully they are in manageable segments) to a boardwalk with an upper and lower viewpoint.  You may have a half hour or so to work with unless you luck out with an overcast day but even with limited time you are not likely to have an unproductive day.
Navigating those steps can work up an appetite.  A "bonus" to photographing here is that there is a nice state park lodge with a restaurant that features a good reasonably-priced breakfast buffet.
The best times to shoot here are in the spring and fall.  You might not think of West Virginia as a fall color hotspot but it rivals northern Wisconsin and Michigan as well as New England.  Canaan Valley State Park is a stone's throw from Blackwater Falls with great fall color potential -- and another nice lodge with a breakfast buffet!
There aren't a lot of nature photography opportunities closer to Washington, D.C. but Great Falls of the Potomac National Park near McLean, Virginia is a worthwhile stop at sunrise and sunset.  Come at any other time of the day and be prepared for harsh light (unless the skies are overcast) and large crowds.  Some of my best shots here come well after sunset.
Great Falls of the Potomac, Fujifilm X-E2, 18-55mm

Although this can be shot wide a telephoto lens will allow more experimentation and cropping.  The Great Falls Tavern is a good place for dinner after sunset. 

McWay Falls -- Big Sur's Stellar Achievement

How many waterfalls empty into an ocean?  Not many.  But one of the most attractive is McWay Falls located in California's Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

This is rugged Big Sur territory -- a nearly three-hour drive south of San Francisco best made in the pre-dawn hours so that you can be in place to capture the waterfall just after sunrise. 

There aren't many available viewpoints.  You park your vehicle after paying the $10 daily admission fee (save your receipt in case you go to another California state park that day) and make a short hike under California 1 to an overlook trail.  What you see is a beautiful waterfall on McWay Creek that empties onto a short beach abutting the Pacific Ocean.  Although this can be shot wide I find a tighter composition works well.

I worked this with both the Fujifilm X-E2 with the 18-55mm lens (top) and the X-E1 with a 55-200mm lens (above), both with circular polarizers.  Originally the waterfall cascaded directly into the ocean but after a 1983 fire and 1985 landslides, the topography of McWay Cove was altered, forming an inaccessible beach. The 80-foot waterfall now meets the ocean when the tide is in.

Unless you hit this location on an overcast day it won't be long before the sun pops out and makes photography less manageable.  I left just before this happened but going back up the highway I saw the sun creating some fog on the ocean.

The drive back up California 1 takes you into the scenic towns of Carmel and Monterey.  In the evening, the trip back from an unproductive sunset attempt at Half Moon Bay found this scene off the highway which yielded an almost monochromatic image.

On a sunny day there will be a lot of "dead time" between sunrise and sunset.  Not a bad time to explore the area.