Making the Image: Cane Creek Cascades Star Trail

July 07, 2014  •  1 Comment


Looking at this image makes my bones feel cold.  It was worth it.  No doubt it was worth it.  Whatever merit the image might have the experience was definitely worth the hardship undergone to obtain it.  I'm sure some of you grammar Nazis are cringing over the repeated placement of prepositions at the end of the last three sentences...but bear with me.  I meant to do it.  


I find myself in Fall Creek Falls State Park in the middle of November.  I have already written about another image I made on this same trip.  Actually it was made only a couple hours after this one was captured.  You can read about the making of that image HERE.  In any case, if you haven't already realized, it was deathly cold.  Some time around 9 PM I left my camp and drove down to the visitors center and parked my truck.  Cane Creek Falls and Cane Creek Cascades are located literally behind that building.  Cane Creek Cascades is a relatively small occurrence when compared to Cane Creek Falls which plummets 84 feet from a sheer terminus about three hundred yards downstream.  Below is Cane Creek Falls.  Yes, I was very close to the edge.  Yes, I have a crippling fear of heights.  Yes, I was scared shitless.

The temperature is hovering somewhere around the twenty degree mark.  I make my way down to the falls and after a brief encounter with a Park Ranger I begin to do what I had came to do.  I meander along the rock bluffs to the base of the cascades.  The water falls into quite a large pool before it picks up speed as it runs down to the falls proper.  It's really a gorgeous sight in the daylight if it has rained much before hand.  At night, however, all that is discernible is the deafening roar of the water as it slams against the granite.  Even though the moon is half full I still can't see much of anything beyond my headlamp.  

I set up the tripod at the edge of the pool, just to the left of the cascades.  As I recall the legs were about two or three inches deep into the water.  I make a couple of exposures.  Tweaking first the shutter, then the ISO.  Nothing.  My goal is the have the falls illuminated in the foreground with the stars wheeling in the open portion of sky above the water.  I realize that I will need an extremely long exposure in order to get the water to be visible.  We're talking in the area of two to three hours.  More time that I have and certainly not enough time to make more than one exposure before I and my gear literally freeze.  So, I make a choice.  I will expose long enough to get good star trails and use my headlamp to "paint" the cascades with light.  it's called "light painting"(go figure) and I have been studying up on it prior to this trip.  So, with my headlamp set to full-on burn a hole in the Earth spotlight I open the shutter and wait for the right time to spill light onto the water.  I believe I made three or four exposures total.  Each ranging from thirty minutes to about fifty.  It's more art than science when you are painting scenes by hand with a light.  I don't claim to be even remotely competent in this craft but it is actually quite fun and the results can be impressive.  You can't use too much or you'll blow out the textures. Too little and everything is pitch black.

The image I settled on used the following settings:

Aperture F/4

Shutter 2,336 seconds(about 3 minutes)

ISO 500

Focal Length 10mm

After the shutter had been open a few seconds I switched on my headlamp.  Looking like a moron shaking his head I started at the top and swept back and forth with the light.  I tried to concentrate the light on the areas I wanted the brightest; mainly the center of the falls.  I slacked off as I reached the rocks but still I wanted them to be visible so I reduced the time the light spent in those areas.  After I was reasonably certain I had illuminated what I wanted I switch my headlight to red and found a small overhang in the rocks to tuck myself into as I timed the rest of the exposure.  It's around 18 degrees and I've been in the freezing spray at the base of the cascades for nearly three hours.


Disaster nearly struck as the ranger returned once and circled the parking lot.  The headlights from his truck briefly flashed onto the trees at the upper portions of the falls and I was sure the exposure was ruined.  Fortunately the lights were only there for a second or two and didn't spoil the image.  I am returning to Fall Creek Falls in August and I hope to secure arrangements to attempt this image again. We shall see.



Awesome star trail shot! I'm also working on a similar project and excited to finally get started!!
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