Peak Fall Foliage in Autumn at Blackwater Falls State Park

On Friday night, I returned from a 10 day trip with my wife to celebrate our one year anniversary. What an incredible trip! I took some shots along the way, but kept the focus on relaxation and touring each city we visited. I don’t like to mix too much photography “work” with vacationing with family — but still have a few images to share.

In keeping tabs of situations closer to home, I found that Blackwater Falls State Park was nearing peak fall foliage for the autumn 2013 season. No time to waste! After getting in from Italy at 6pm on Friday night and being super jetlagged, I woke up at 4am on Saturday morning and booked it to West Virginia to shoot a day of fall colors.

First things first though. I had my eye on one locale near Dolly Sods that I wanted to check out, so I scouted it for a future visit. As I scaled the dried out river, I found a cool triangular cave formation from a rock jutted out 45 degrees from the ground. Using a wide angle and polarizer, I reduced the glare in the bottom left of the frame to show the rocks and allowed glare in the bottom right to balance with the water flow illuminated by the rising sun:

Triangle Cove WVA


Triangle Cove
A triangle rock cove near Dolly Sods, West Virginia.
Nikon D800, Nikon 14-24, f/14, 1/5 sec, ISO 100, Polarizer

As the day progressed, I came towards Blackwater Falls State Park and visited an icon of the area, Elakala Falls. Elakala falls is such a popular spot in the fall, and it’s frequently shot with a long exposure to show water flow and eddies swirling with leaves. While I stayed with this theme, I wanted to show something a little different as well. The falls are located in a gorge that does not have a clear view to the sky. However, I wanted to emphasize the blue skies above so I used a reflection within a pothole formation. Slight polarization limited glare on the far rocks but still allowed a reflection:

A pothole reflects the blue sky at Elakala Falls at Blackwater Falls State Park.


Remember the Sky
A pothole reflects the blue sky at Elakala Falls at Blackwater Falls State Park.
Nikon D800, Nikon 14-24, f/16, 30 sec, ISO 100, Polarizer & ND Filter

As I continued observing Elakala Falls, I noticed that as the water dropped from the rock ledges, they formed interesting triangle formations, almost in the shape of dark hooded figures crowding around each other. The shape was only briefly visible every few seconds, so I chose a relatively fast shutter speed and kept shooting until one shot reflected the mood, shape, and texture I was going for:

Strange shapes form figures within water dashing down Elakala Falls, Blackwater Falls State Park.


Figures from Beneath
Strange shapes form figures within water dashing down Elakala Falls, Blackwater Falls State Park.
Nikon D800, Nikon 70-200, f/2.8, 1/13 sec, ISO 400, Polarizer

Last but not least, Lindy Point. This is a great location to view the sunset at Blackwater Falls State Park, given that it looks due west through Blackwater Canyon. I came earlier in the day and found that many trees had peaked during this area. I planned to come 1.5 hours before sunset to get my composition set, but had no idea what awaited me once I arrived.

What an amazing gathering of folks at Blackwater Falls for sunset over the river. 75+ people in and out, enjoying the weather. Perhaps 15 folks trying photography, some of whom mentioning the works of artists who I am familiar with. A workshop group based in Blue Ridge with the instructors chatting me up about gear. A nice group of friends and two dogs enjoying some cold ones atop a rockledge cliff (why didnt I ever think of this!). It was a bit hard trying to get spot on the cliff faces, but I took my time. After checking each side multiple times, observing the foliage, the rocks, the sun, the anticipated location of the stars and milky way, I confirmed my composition. I took this one shot while scouting a shot towards the north:

Warm light highlights turning trees on the cliffs of Blackwater Canyon, West Virginia.

Warm light highlights turning trees on the cliffs of Blackwater Canyon, West Virginia.
Nikon D800, Nikon 24-70, f/8, 1/320 sec, ISO 1000, handheld

Slowly, all those who had come to watch the sunset left. Some complained that it wasn’t as vibrant as they would have hoped. I can understand the sentiment and the desire to see a killer light show that takes over the whole sky. But I am also of the opinion that every sunrise/sunset has its advantages/disadvantages and reasons to be unique. Soon after sunset, I was the only one left. I kept shooting into twilight for the shot I was planning and that I had never before seen in Blackwater Falls.

The first shot was the original shot I planned. I didn’t want to include the milky way, but just the blue/purple mood of twilight with stars, clouds, and the foliage below. Venus made these shots that much more effective, as the planet beamed like in a dream:

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Venus Watching
Venus shines brightly during twilight over autumn trees at Lindy Point, Blackwater Falls State Park.
Nikon D800, Nikon 14-24, two shots blended at f/13 and f/2.8 for high dynamic range (HDR)

As twilight progressed and the milky way shined, I tried one more composition to emphasize it in the sky. The name of the photo came to me as I was shooting past the huge rocks towards the stars shining above:

The milky way and venus take the sky over Lindy Point, West Virginia.


Upon a Throne
The milky way and venus take the sky over Lindy Point, West Virginia.
Nikon D800, Nikon 14-24, f/2.8, 33 sec, ISO 2500

I hope you enjoyed these images of peak fall foliage in autumn at Blackwater Falls State Park. Next up, images from Italy!

3 thoughts on “Peak Fall Foliage in Autumn at Blackwater Falls State Park

  1. Nice work Navin! Congrats on your one year anniversary and your processing looks fantastic! I’d have to say of the lot my favorite is the first picture “Triangle Cove.” The light is very pretty and I like how the water gets gradually deeper and leads your eye into the scene. The shutter speed is perfect too. Excellent all around work!

  2. Great shots, these do Dolly Sods justice! I also shoot with a D800 and the 14-24 mm is one of my favorite lenses. On some shots you mention using that lens with a polarizer and ND filter but I haven’t found those available anywhere. Would you be so kind as to share where you found those? Rear mount filters perhaps?

    Thanks again,

    Paul

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