Hocking Hills–Reflections of a First Visit

Craig and I just returned from a scouting trip to Hocking Hills in southeastern Ohio. We are planning a workshop here in May of 2020 and needed to visit the area to check out potential shooting locations and nail down an itinerary. This was my first visit to this area of the country, and I’m happy to report that I can’t wait to go back! Incredible shooting locations, more waterfalls than I can count and the very friendly people of Ohio made this a must see place for anyone that enjoys landscape photography.

I haven’t done a lot of winter photography, so I was somewhat hesitant to head out in February to scout out a new area. But I was careful to plan ahead and took the right type of clothing that would allow me to be comfortable while being outside for hours, potentially standing still shooting. I wasn’t cold at all, especially once I saw the beautiful locations that were around every turn!

The majority of our time was spent in the Old Man’s Cave area, a gorge that has multiple waterfalls along the way. The walk along the bottom of the gorge takes about an hour if you are a hiker, but if you have a camera in hand and are even slightly attracted to waterfalls, it might take you all day!

Let’s take a closer look at two of the waterfalls in this area, and go over what shooting strategies I used to end up with some images that really capture the essence of Hocking Hills.

The first feature you come across in this area is Upper Falls, and this just might be the most photographed waterfall in all of Hocking Hills. It has an arched bridge over the falls, lovely flow into a bowl of green water and multi-hued red sandstone walls on either side of the falls! And it is a 5-minute walk from the car!!!!!

When I first approach a scene that I want to photograph, I tend to leave my gear tucked away and just walk around to get a feel for what I see and how I feel. Spending this time just taking in the scene helps me refine what I want to say with my images. In the case of Upper Falls, it is easy to immediately feel overwhelmed! I had just stepped out of the car and walked a short bit and now here I was, standing in front of this incredible scene! How was I ever going to be able to compose a shot that would do this justice?

A cellphone shot of my first view of Upper Falls.

When I am trying to compose a shot, I tend to look for interesting things that I can put in the foreground so that my image has depth. I was lucky enough to find a beautiful log positioned in just the right place! Perhaps a photographer placed it here long ago?

Hmmm, this log just might make an interesting foreground!

I loved the leading lines provided by this stump and after some walking around, I decided to get down low and use a wide lens (16-35) to accentuate the foreground and draw the viewer into the scene. I was careful to make sure my camera was level, and I tried out various shutter speeds to get just the right look to the flowing water. (Collect all your assets!) Note that I left a little bit of breathing room at the bottom of the stump, and a bit of room above the bridge so that the image didn’t feel cramped. I also loved the leading lines provided by the amazing colors of the sandstone walls.

Finished Image of Upper Falls

As we were leaving the Upper Falls area, we noticed some gnarly tree roots and an icy patch that had foreground potential! I spent quite a bit of time setting up this shot, and while it isn’t a “wall hanger,” it does tell part of the story of this scene and thus is a worthwhile image.

Tree roots and dripping icicles made for an interesting foreground to the Upper Falls scene

At the other end of Old Man’s Cave Trail, you find Lower Falls. Fitting bookends you might say! After climbing down lots of stairs, you find yourself at a large beach area with a tall and very full waterfall. The water was particularly green under this waterfall, and I again walked around the scene, trying to find a composition that I liked. This was fairly challenging because the large, flat beach area was uninteresting and I struggled to find a way to convey the size and sheer force of the waterfall without it looking flat. The straight shot that revealed itself immediately was not exciting!

First impression of lower falls. Ho hum…

I noticed some logs laying to the side of the waterfall, but they were not positioned in a way that added to the composition. (What happened to the photographer that so carefully placed the stump at Upper Falls??! Guess he didn’t make it this far down the trail!) Notice how the logs laying from left to right seem to stop your eye as you try to visually enter the scene?

Lower Falls, Old Man’s Trail

I began to doubt myself, maybe I couldn’t find a compelling composition at this location? I kept walking around the beach, going to the right (no luck) and finally ending up to the far left side of the waterfall. Voila!! This unexpected perspective of the Lower Falls was a winning combo of leading lines (the rock perfectly shaped to point to the falls), heavy water flow and beautiful green hemlocks to add a lush background. This one just might end up on the wall!!

Lower falls as seen from the far left side

The workflow that I have just described above is my normal approach to landscape photography. I get a feel for a location before grabbing my gear. Then I search for compelling compositions as well as supporting images that help tell the story of a place. They aren’t all wall hangers-but then, not everyone can be the prom queen! Even the lesser shots have value when you look back on them and remember how your felt when you stood in front of something beautiful! And isn’t that what this is all about?

Consider joining us when we return to Hocking Hills in May of 2020. We will spend time with you in the field, teaching you how to approach a scene and how to use your camera to make a photograph that makes you remember not just what you saw, but how you felt. And maybe by then, someone will have rearranged those darn logs!

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