The Columbia River Gorge is a lush green space spanning from the Sandy to the Deschutes River. President Ronald Regan established the 292,500-acre stretch of land in 1986. The Gorge is home to 53 breathtaking waterfalls total, with 40 on the Oregon side and 13 in Washington. This areas typical cloudy and wet weather makes it one of the best places to view and photograph waterfalls. Whether you are looking for an overnight backpack, a long day hike or a short jaunt down to the river the Gorge has a little something for every enthusiast.
Scott Donschikowski and I met up with a great group of photographers on Friday night in the town of Troutdale for a brief introduction to get to know each other. Since the weather was calling for a rather clear and sunny weekend we decided to meet bright and early the next day to combat the conditions. Waterfall photography is dependent on low light and/or cloudy conditions to create the low contrast that is needed to make quality images. After discussing our agenda for the next few days and planning our early departure we broke for the evening.
After a quick breakfast we loaded up the Aperture van and headed over to the quiet town of Woodland on the Washington side of the river. Our first location is an old grist mill nestled into a small gorge. The Cedar Creek Grist Mill was built in 1876 and is the only one left in working order in all of Washington. Scott and I split up and showed the students around the area. Since it was still early this was the perfect place to explain how to achieve slower shutter speeds with the rushing creek. We offered different ideas for interesting compositions and let the students explore the nooks and crannies of the mill. After spending a few hours here (trust me we could have spent all day here!) we headed back over to the Columbia River to Cathedral Park. The park offers a unique view of the giant arches on underside of the St. Johns Bridge. The bridge’s blue color contrasted nicely with the parks green grass and willow tree. This was a great place to utilize our longer lenses and for Scott and I to talk more about composition while the group whet their creative whistles. Now that it was getting later in the day and it was sunny we decided to head back to the hotel for an afternoon break.
After a much-needed nap and some lunch we met back up with the group in front of the hotel and headed back out for some waterfall fun! First on our list was a small drainage called starvation creek. The lower part of this creek has some great little cascades where the students tried some different angles while practicing some slow-shutter techniques. After capturing a few down low Scott and I took everyone to the upper portion where a vivid green rock face encases the plummeting waterfall. The group played with some filters here to darken down the lighter parts of the scene and create more dynamic images. When everyone had shot every possible angle here we headed back down to the van. We headed to the town of Hood River to an old orchard with a spectacular view of a big red barn and Mt. Hood. The pear orchard offers a perfect frame and contrasts nicely with the colorful scene. Here we talked about leading lines and how to use telephoto lenses to make the mountain look bigger. As the sun was sinking lower we headed to our sunset spot just down the road. This location is literally just off of an old country road and it sits directly above a sweeping vineyard that frames the distant Mt. Hood. Just as everyone was thinking that the night was over the sun set and blasted the low clouds with some brilliant pink color. A nice treat to end our day!
Another early start, we met our group outside the hotel at 5 AM. Scott and I were excited to share a newly scouted waterfall on the Washington side of the Gorge. Off we went! We arrived at the Falls Creek trailhead just after six with plenty of time to mosey up the 1.7-mile hike. The light could not have been more perfect. With a thin layer of clouds in the sky and the sun still below the horizon, we had plenty of time to explore this fall to its fullest. I took a few adventurous folks up to the middle fall while Scott stayed at the lower section with the rest of the group. After hiking the trail back with a nice downhill drop all the way back to the van, we had a brief snack break to rejuvenate. Next up was Panther Creek just a few miles down the road on the Washington side. We arrived to the fall just as a rainbow began to appear on the upper portion of the waterfall. The students used their polarizers here to make the colors of the rainbow pop and knock down some of the glare on the rocks.
Ok who wants to photograph more waterfalls? Next on the list was Latourell Falls. This is one of our favorites on the Oregon side. The lower section of the 249-foot plunge offers a shaded view of the waterfall in the later afternoon. The bright yellow-green lichen that clings to the rocks adjacent the waterfall appears to be glow in the dark. Folks had the option to get into the shallow water here to get some compelling vantage points above the rapids. There are about 5 main vantage points here that the group filtered in and out of looking for unique and dynamic compositions. After a quick group shot we headed on down the road to check out Bridal Veil Falls. With just a quick ¼ mile hike down the trail opens up into a large gorge smattered with vivid maple trees, thick ferns and giant Alders. Everyone grabbed a few nice ones here and then hoofed it back to the van so we could zip up to our sunset location just in time. We arrived at our perch overlooking the Columbia River Gorge and set up the tripods. We had a little time yet so Scott and I gave advice about composition and talked with students as we waited. The sun set bringing some nice color onto the gorge and painted the hills with warm evening light. What a great end to a great expedition!
Until our next adventure...
Scott, Phil and the rest of the Aperture Academy team
P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.