Monday, February 14, 2011

First-ever trip to Cataract Falls


My first trip to Cataract Falls State Recreation Area in Owen County, Ind., on Saturday was another opportunity to explore high-dynamic range (HDR) photography, as the sun shined bright, presenting many scenes to photograph that contained contrasting light, ideal situations to employ HDR.

As mentioned in my previous post, HDR enables a photographer to take multiple frames of the same scene, using different exposures in each -- one of which is metered at normal exposure, while the others are either overexposed or underexposed -- and then melding the images in post-processing to obtain optimum detail in the final image. It's the photographer's discretion to determine how many frames -- and how far over- and underexposed he or she wants to shoot those. My limited experience has steered me to keep the exposure value differential relatively close (e.g., -1,0,+1, for a three-exposure bracket) when the contrast in light is not severe, and to widen the interval values (-2,0,+2) as the light contrast intensifies.

In addition to the all-day sun, temperatures warmed to the 40s in Indiana for the first time since Jan. 1. I went to Cataract Falls with two fellow photo club members. Cataract Falls' two sets of falls on Mill Creek cascade a combined total of 86 feet, making it the largest falls in Indiana. The largest single drops in any of the falls cascades are 20 and 18 feet at Upper and Lower Falls, respectively.

Cataract has a sort of sibling falls, called Little Sister Falls, situated very near the Lower Falls. Unlike the Upper and Lower falls on the day we visited, Little Sister Falls was frozen over. The one angle to grab pictures of that attraction -- access to it in the winter is by a path that ends on a kind of overlook bluff about three-quarters of the distance downhill of the falls -- was looking almost directly into the sun when we were there. So we battled back-lighting to grab any images of it; I expanded my bracketed exposure values in hopes of grabbing more detail in the HDR process. It probably helped, but only marginally, I think.

The images you see here are from that day's shoot; to view a more complete gallery of images from Cataract Falls, follow this link.

Above and below: Single-frame (non-HDR) long- and mid-range views of the Upper Falls. The frame below was shot at a relatively show shutter speed (1/40) at f/16 (ISO-100) to blur the cascading water.

Above and top of post: HDR frames of the Upper Falls, the above encompassing more distance than the ones higher up. The one leading off the post is one of my favorites from the shoot; the perspective is about 50-60 yards to the right of the one above, and captures some dynamic color on the ledge portion of the Upper Falls' 20-foot drop.
Above: a shed in the median near the access to Cataract Falls, with a residential home in the background. On the day we were there, the shed's color was a dark, burgundy-like color. Shooting it in HDR put some pop into the color.

Above and three images below: Shots of the 140-foot-long Smith truss bridge over Mill Creek at the Upper Falls. For a history of the bridge, follow this link.

Above: Intentionally off-angle for creative effect. I'm not saying it definitely works; just sayin' I tried something a little different.

Above: The one exterior shot I grabbed that didn't get marred by sun flare. I took this as we first approached the bridge. The sun was at about 1 o'clock in the sky, and I tried several angles from this side. While this was the only one without flare, the sun's brightness wiped out the bridge's roof line. I had made a mental note at the time to try to grab the bridge from the right side when we finished shooting the interior, but I spaced it. Another club member, Roxanne, did not. She got a nice shot of the bridge from the right side. 

 Above and below: Shots of the Lower Falls, both in HDR.

Above: A single frame (non-HDR) shot of an iced-over section of the Lower Falls. This section doesn't get nearly the amount of sunlight that the sections above receive.

Above: I took shots of this same view in HDR, but I ended up liking this, a single frame, a little better. This is Mill Creek leading up to the large 18-foot drop at the Lower Falls. 
Above and below: An area off to the side of the Lower Falls was an eye-opener with these stripped, young tree branches reminding me of a post-fire forest. While I did bracket my exposures for these shots with the intent to convert to HDR, I felt the single-frame version much better represented the stark vista I saw when I came across these. I converted several to monochrome, enhancing the desolate feel. One of those b/w conversions appears two pictures below.

Above: A single frame shot of the Lower Falls.

Above: An HDR-treatment of a scene of a structure at the Upper Falls. I didn't get close to this to explore it further (it was on an incline from where I was standing, and the footing wasn't very good yet), but that sort of looks like an old well pump in the middle.

Above: Inside the covered bridge at the Upper Falls, where fellow club members Connie and Roxanne are captured in a monochrome conversion silhouette.
Above: Evidence that the hiking trail is used quite a bit, even in the unfriendliest of weather.

 Above: A look at the frozen-over Little Sister Falls.

Above and below: HDR frames of the Lower Falls from different perspectives. 

Above: This vista of Mill Creek downstream from the Lower Falls was one I wanted to get, but it was difficult to find an unobstructed vantage point. This perspective, "peeking" through branches along the hiking trail, was the best I could find without impediments.


  1. Ah, you've captured a place very close to my heart here...the Great Scot and I were married by the lower falls. (In summer!)

    Cataract Falls was once owned by a member of the family (by marriage) and was my 'stomping grounds' when growing up. We still make sure to go back every year around the time of our anniversary.

  2. Hi, Jackie. For some reason, I'm just now seeing your comment to this post (I still haven't figured out the comment notification thing here!). It was nice to read about your personal connection to this place. It was very nice to visit in winter; the club members and I had the place to ourselves for the most part that day. At the time, I quietly resolved to come back and photograph it in autumn or spring. I've yet to accomplish that!