Columbia River Gorge Part 1: Ponytail Fall

I took a day off during the week and drove the 2 hours south to the Columbia River, which separates Washington and Oregon States.  I had been to the well-known Multnomah Falls several times, and there are tons of photos of it online, so I skipped it and headed for the lesser known falls.  My first stop was Horsetail Fall, which is right next to the road.

Horsetail Fall

Horsetail Fall

As I said before, I’ve changed the way I expose my shots since getting the EOS 6D. Partly because of the amazing amount of shadow detail it can produce, and partly because I am trying to learn to be a better photographer.  It’s pretty simple. I look at the histogram and watch for “blinkys” warning of blown highlights.  I can use quick, minus exposure compensation and reshoot to avoid having lost detail, or spots that are just flat white.

A waterfall itself is very light but surrounded by dark rocks and greenery. Since the majority of the photo is dark, the camera meter’s auto-exposure settings will over-expose the rushing water.  I shot most of these photos at -1 EV.  While the slower shutter speed blurs the water, it still looks odd if there is a flat white patch with no detail (blown highlight).


Ponytail Fall

Ponytail Fall

This is Ponytail Fall. I was last here about 20 years ago with my film SLR.  It’s a short but steep switchback hike up from Horsetail Fall. I was trying to reach Oneonta Falls, which is further on the trail past Ponytail Fall, but the large lower fall can’t be seen well from the trail, and the upper fall trail was blocked by a rock/log slide.  You can reach the lower fall by hiking up the gorge from below, but there is a log jam to climb over, and this time of year you need waders.

In post processing, I did mostly highlight and shadow adjustments, in addition to sharpening the RAW image. These were taken between 9 and 10 AM and it’s still winter, so the light was very blue and cold. A slight bump in white balance warmth helped the scenes look more natural.

Ponytail Fall

Ponytail Fall

There is a massive rock overhang over the trail passing behind the fall.  If you are claustrophobic at all, it’s probably going to be a scary stretch.  The thundering water reverberates off the rock in that space and pounds your chest.

Ponytail Fall

Ponytail Fall

I used to love taking waterfall photos as a freshman in college, after I got my first electronic film SLR camera. Two decades later, I still love it!  I love hiking and getting out in nature. Since I have a desk job, I like to push my body beyond what’s comfortable to strengthen it and try to prevent becoming a stiff old man.  The same day I hiked up to three waterfalls, drove back across the Columbia River into Washington via the Bridge of the Gods, and hiked up and down Beacon Rock.

As I get older I am discovering that going up is easier than coming back down. My legs are strong and while I might huff and puff, I can still power up steep places.  Coming down is hard on my knees, and I actually had to stop a few times to give them a break. I saw people with walking sticks that looked like ski poles. I might have to research those, if they help take some abuse off the knees.

More on other falls and Beacon Rock in future posts!


2 thoughts on “Columbia River Gorge Part 1: Ponytail Fall

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