Over 5 months ago I booked a trip to east to photograph autumn color. Often I picked my fall color trips to be in the vicinity of Baltimore, my original hometown, and I plan a visit with old friends. For the past few years I had been going to Western Maryland, and have pretty good luck with my pictures. This year I decided to try another location in the same general area and settled on Blackwater Falls State Park, in West Virginia. I picked this park for the convenient lodging, the “normally” good autumn color and the bonus of waterfalls.
I arrived to the area in the dark and had no idea of my surroundings. When I woke up the next morning, I threw open the curtains in my room to see a swatch of green trees before my eyes. There was no autumn color to be seen. I drove off to the trailhead for Blackwater Falls and all along the way the trees were either green, or bare, there was no in between. I had a nice hike to the falls and made some nice images. While at the falls I noticed a faint rainbow in the spray where the water plunged over a large rock. And I realized the light would be coming from a similar angle that night, under moonlight, so there was a possibility of a moonbow. If you are not familiar with moonbows, they are similar to rainbows, only caused my moonlight instead of sunlight. Both Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls are well know for theirs moonbows in the peak flow months during nights around a full moon. I had photographed the moonbow in Yosemite before (Yosemite Falls moonbow), so I was anxious to see if I would find one this night. I knew it would not be as pronounced as the one in Yosemite since it was not a strong rainbow during the day, but I wanted to check nevertheless. And I figured since there was no autumn color, at least I would end with moonlight images of the waterfall!
Blackwater Falls with slight rainbow over the rock, Blackwater Falls State Park, WV 1/2 sec; f/16; ISO 64; 24mm
Meanwhile, nighttime was hours away and I wanted to make more images, and I was not finding much to photograph. I stopped back by the lodge for lunch and I looked out the window and saw a man carrying a tripod. I ran out and asked him what he had found to photograph in the area. He pointed to a trail right from the lodge that ran to a waterfall, Falls of Elakala, I had not known about. So I hiked down there, and it turned out to be a busy location. There were three other photographers with tripods along the creek photographing the falls. All of them were in my way, from the location I chose to make my photograph. I set up and waited patiently. After about 15 minutes, they all had moved out of my way and I made my pictures.
Falls of Elakala, Blackwater Falss State Park, WV 2 sec; f/16; ISO 64; 24mm
I needed to have the moon in a certain position to light the falls, and I knew that I had to wait about an hour after it rose. The waterfalls part of the park is closed after 10 PM, so I headed down to the waterfall at 8:30. It was a little creepy hiking down in the dark by flashlight, since I had only been there once before, earlier in the day. But I made my way down and set up for my pictures. I was surprised just how bright the falls were under the moonlight. I was thinking of the exposures I use for star images and started out with a 25 sec exposure at f/3.2 at 2500. The first image was totally blown out. I cut my ISO in half and that image looked a daylight image with slightly blown out water. I wanted to show the stars in the sky above the falls, so I reduced my ISO to 500 and cut back my time. It turned out that 10 sec at f3.2 and ISO 500 gave me a good exposure of the water and still allowed the sky to look dark and stars to show. To my eye I could not see a moonbow and I wasn’t sure if the moon needed to be in a different position relative to where I could stand, or whether there just wasn’t the right, spray, moonlight combination to create one.
I took pictures for about an hour and then had to leave knowing the gates on the road would be locked at 10. When I got back and processed the images I saw a very faint moonbow in the pictures. (If you look real hard you will see it to the right of the big rock in the foreground)
Blackwater Falls and slight Moonbow, Blackwater Falls State Park, WV 10 sec; f/3.2; ISO 500; 15mm
Even though I didn’t photograph any autumn color, I still ended up with a pretty good day!
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