the road to glowing waterfalls

“may your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. i hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. and I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”

― neil gaiman


it was late; the road and landscape around me was dark. periodically, the glow of a pole light interrupted the night, giving evidence of human habitation. i was driving on county road 56 taking the scenic route to nerstrand big woods state park. well...i take that back. there was nothing scenic about it unless you enjoy looking at the darkness that surrounded me. but by day, it is a drive that will bring visual enjoyment.


all of a sudden, the moon, which had been hidden behind a blanket of clouds draped along the horizon, slowly emerged, shining its glorious yellow tones! the solid drapery of clouds had started becoming tattered, allowing the moon to play a bit of hide and seek as it rose low on the horizon. it literally took my breath away. i wasn't prepared for the drama and beauty of the silent scene before me. it was whispering in the night to those awake and paying attention to come and enjoy the show! i turned around and drove back about a half mile or so for a better perspective to make an image.


after a few minutes of just watching, i realized if i wanted to make an image of what was unfolding in front of me, i needed to get a move on. as the moon rises, the the yellow tones transition into a brilliant white. clouds are changing shapes and positions. moods and atmospheres are shifting. and it all happens in a short span of time, sometimes within seconds.


i grabbed my gear and set it up on the side of the road. even at this late hour, vehicles were still passing through. some would slow down, presumably, if i'm to have faith in humanity, to see if i was ok. once they saw that I was fine, they would speed up and move on. or perhaps they were just curious as to what i was doing or trying to see what i was seeing. who knows...as long as it wasn't some "silence of the lamb" character who saw me as his/her next victim! 🫣. i confess to having an overactive mind sometimes. as a man of faith, i'm often praying under my breath when i'm out in the night on a photography expedition, be it driving or walking/hiking. it certainly can't hurt!


i wanted to include the pole light and residence which is off in the distance. to me, it adds an element to the loneliness and "out in the country" feel that the moon landscape by itself didn't really convey. for me, especially in night photography, there needs to be some sort of additional element of interest. a celestial object by itself (sun, moon, star, milky way, etc.) is often not enough. there are exceptions to be sure. but for my photography, i find those exceptions to not be the norm. here's the resulting image made after setting up for the right look and position of the moon interspersed with the clouds.



i packed up my gear, made a u-turn in the right direction and moved on. yep, i periodically prayed under my breath to keep deer and critters off the road while i was driving. i finally pulled into nerstrand big woods state park with my small ford focus still unblemished, other than the one thousand and one

bug splatters on the windshield and body. some things are just inevitable on warm nights. the bright headlamps of vehicles act as sirens calling the bugs to the warmth of the light. then pthbbth! another one bites the dust.


i put on my waders and grabbed my gear. under the dim light of my headlamp, i followed the well maintained path as it descended toward prairie river and hidden falls. this is a very popular destination during the day. but at night around 11:00 pm, i had the park to myself. as is customary for yours truly being severely hearing impaired, dead silence was all i heard. however, i wouldn't be surprised if frogs and/or toads were croaking their songs as i approached the river. there may have been other critters making their presence known as well but i heard nothing. i finally came to where the river can be crossed walking across huge rectangular stones laid side by side and with the flow of the river, small two to three inch or so gaps separated each stone to allow unimpeded water flow. that's my educated guess, at least, for the gaps. barely a small boy or girl's throw away was the falls. i turned off my headlamp and walked around, exploring, while letting my eyes adjust to the dark.


the moon had long succumbed to the cloud cover. i had made the trip partially based on clear skies being a possibility, though not a certainty, later in the night to combine with a waterfall image. with that no longer a possibility, i went to work on the main reason i drove through the night to this state park.


this image idea had been on my mind for quite some time though not with a specific location in mind. i just knew it would involve a waterfall. some of you may remember quite a while back an image i shared. it involved evoking a sense of an expedition in the night where i came out of the darkness upon a waterfall that was magically lit up. that image was made almost three years ago in shadow falls park. here it is again...



it was a fun night and i love the final image as shown here. however, i was stymied in trying to figure out how to just backlight the falls so it seemed to glow in the dark. when i realized it wasn't going to happen, that's when i shifted gears, took a different approach and made this image. i also made a mental promise to myself that night, almost three years ago, that i would try again another time. that time had come using hidden falls at nerstrand big woods state park.


as i did in the image above, i used a technique called light painting. light painting can be very easy or it can require a lot of planning. in the case involving hidden falls, i had to figure out placements of my light cubes that would not light up the whole scene but only the falls themselves. this involved making lots of "sketch" images. i would place the light cubes, set them up to be controlled remotely as a flash through an app on my iphone, make the image and see what came of it. it was a rather intensive labor of trial and error but one that i found to be a lot of fun.


once my "sketches" got me to where i had the waterfall lit up the way i wanted, it was then a matter of achieving two things in the final image. first, the correct exposure to ensure the waterfall was showing up in the image made without too much of the surrounding landscape showing up. second, the correct exposure that give the falls a little bit of texture in the motion. waterfall motion preferences vary from photographer to photographer. in my opinion, there is no right or wrong. for me, i like to have a little bit of texture as opposed to a silky smooth look. in this case, i was not really able to bring out the texture i wanted due to the long exposure needed just to bring out the falls at all. however, i do feel there is a tiny hint of texture in the first image coming up. look at the difference between the falls in the background vs. the foreground at the lip of the rock as the water runs off, the foreground water is not as silky smooth and a tad more definitive in form.


in the end, i made forty-eight images (including the "sketch" images). my first image was made about 11:30 pm. my last image was made about 1:00 am. during that hour and a half, i spent a fair amount of time in the river as well. i was not only making images in the river; i was also placing the light cubes right next to the falls to try to achieve that glowing look without lighting up the surrounding landscape. the river was flowing at a pretty decent clip due to all of the recent rains. most of the year, the river and falls in this location run at a low volume of water. while not on par with rivers in northern minnesota that were raging and extremely dangerous to be in at all, it still was substantially more than the normal volume of water. being careful was a necessity. everything was done at a controlled pace and a focused eye when moving around in the river. even with eyes adjusted to the dark, i still could not see like i can in the light. i used walking sticks in the river to make sure my next step wasn't going to be deep one!


i came away with about five to six images that i liked. the two i'm sharing here are my favorites. i feel, that with both of these, i achieved a sense of "glowing waterfalls" that i'm pleased with. i can visualize someone coming upon these two waterfall perspectives and actually believe that the falls are magically glowing in the dark!




i could have continued to make images from different perspectives and lighting from different angles. however, by 1:00 am, i was ready to go. i had just spent the night before making images of the total lunar eclipse and sleep had been in short supply.


i gathered up my gear and wiped down the moisture from the river and the spray of the falls. once dry, i pack the gear in my backpack. i gave a slight groan as i lifted the pack, swung it around onto my shoulders and buckled the waist and chest straps. my body was a bit sore from all the physical activity that had just transpired over the last hour and a half or so.


about midway while ascending the gravel path back to my car, i stopped to rest. seems like the older i get, the heavier my backpack gets😂. as i stood in the dark and still night of dead silence to my ears, i imagined the woodland critters wondering who the heck i was to be out in their woods in the wee hours of the morning. maybe some of them even watched from the dark nooks, crannies and bends of the forest and river, eyes widening as they watched the falls take on a glowing ambience.


after a few fanciful moments, i continued on until i reached my old partner in crime, my ford focus. that car has been though quite a lot with me. sometimes it just cannot conquer some roads. it is a focus after all. it tries to be an all wheel drive subaru sometimes. but this is not a story about "the car that could". it never will be that😉.


i opened the trunk, pulled off my waders and loaded it and my backpack, I got into the car and pulled out of the state park onto the county roads that would lead me back to the freeway and then all the way home. and yep, i periodically prayed under my breath that the deer and critters would stay off the road.


i hope you enjoyed reading this blog! i'd love to hear your thoughts and comments if you have any regarding the images and blog. perhaps you have had a creative endeavor in the past that was brought to mind while reading. i'd love to hear about what it was and how it turned out!


if you haven't read an earlier post i shared about commenting on my website, i just want to say that you can now leave comments as a guest. that means you don't have to set up an account to leave comments. simply type in your comments, hit the publish button and follow the prompts from there. it's very easy and takes only seconds to do. i've been waiting for this feature from my website host for a long time and am very glad it's finally an option! i'd really enjoy seeing more of my blogs read on my website as it is formatted correctly and the option to comment as a guest is set up. but i will continue to share to my fb page as well for those that like to go that route.


if you are interested in any of these images as wall art or greeting cards, send me a message using the contact form below. i'll be sure to get back to you in a timely manner. they would make great wall art for your home and/or business, for a family member or a friend! if you enjoy personal correspondence, these images would make fantastic greeting cards that can be framed as well since the card has an actual photo print on the front. i will also be adding the three new images to my online store. they can be ordered that way as well.


thanks again so much for your support of my business, website and blogs! i continue to be grateful that you allow me share with you my stories and adventures. i love doing it!


i'll see you next time with more "images from a quiet world!"





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