Hemlock Falls – It’s a matter of perspective

When I first began to try to take pictures of landscapes, I would inevitably try to capture an image of wide, sweeping vistas. You know, those epic mountain ranges, or cloudscapes or tree lines.  Somehow, what I saw with my eye never quite appeared on the back of my camera after I took the shot. Since then I have learned a bit more about cameras and specific lenses and how they “see”. In a nutshell, I can tell you that they don’t see like our eyes do.  More importantly, I have learned that I rarely want a picture of that wide scene anyway. I try (and often fail) to ask myself “What, exactly, am I taking a picture of, anyway?”

I mentioned in a previous post that a group of photographers can stand in front of the same scene and come away with completely different images. Each will represent that photographer’s point of view, or tell the story that he wants to communicate. I was reminded of this when I read reports on the photographs that came out the recent G7 meetings in Canada. Same event. Different photographic perspectives.

Last week I had a chance to wander down into Cloudland Canyon in north Georgia.  There are two waterfalls in the canyon, and I was hoping to be able to capture at least one of them. As it turned out, I was able to spend a fair amount of time at Hemlock Falls. The other, Cherokee Falls, was just too popular on the day that I was there. Swimmers, hikers and families enjoying an early summer day made pictures there an impossibility. Hemlock Falls is farther down the canyon – which means a longer climb coming back out – so I had more options down there.

Hemlock Falls is a 90 foot, straight drop onto a bed of boulders that cascades out into a deep pool before continuing gently down stream. Part of the view of the falls is protected by an enormous boulder that sits directly in front of the “landing area”. I found that by scrambling around the side of the pool, I could get an uninterrupted view of the entire drop. But to just take a picture from there would have resulted in a fairly boring “snapshot” that would have had very little interest. So I got closer in order to fill my frame with the waterfall.

But from that angle, it’s really difficult to tell that the water falls some 9 stories before hitting something solid. Again, I had to ask myself what I was really taking a picture of. I found the cascade through the rocks more interesting than the drop, so I decided to take a picture that focused on that.

I like the sense of movement here. But I still haven’t gotten what I’m after. So I move in closer to those smaller stones. I also made a lens change, moving from my Tokina 11-16 to a Tamron 24-60. Remember what I said about cameras not seeing like we do? The longer focal length brings the “back” of the cascade “closer” to the camera. This comes closer to letting you see what it looked like to my human eye.

Suddenly the details seem far more interesting (at least to me) than the falling water. To some degree, I suppose, we have these details in the foreground of the first picture but, as the photographer, I like the fact that I can pull you in to notice what I want you see. This is what most captivated me when I was there.

I was not alone during my visit to the falls. Others came and took pictures then left. Some played in the spray, or swam in the pool. One particularly brave(?) group of guys actually did push ups directly under the falls. They lasted longer than I would have, but they gave up fairly quickly. Their activity, however, drew my eye to something else. Something that I probably would have never noticed otherwise. You’ve been looking at it in the last three pictures and probably haven’t really seen it either. I decided it would make a perfect subject for my final image of the visit.

That rock has endured the falls for generations. In fact, I was there on a day when the waterflow was fairly low. Imagine the pounding that comes after heavy rains. I like the detail. I like the contrast with the water.  I like the fact that in the middle of all that is going on with this large and impressive waterfall there is a tiny story that you might easily overlook.

This may be my favorite shot of the day. What’s yours? Feel free to comment below.

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