Columbia Gorge Waterfalls in Spring

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The Columbia River Gorge features the largest concentration of waterfalls in North America. They sprout and pour all over the place — especially on the southern, Oregon side of the gorge. During my Memorial Weekend trip to the Painted Hills, I decided to make a brief detour through the Columbia River Gorge on the way to the Oregon high desert east of the Ochoco Mountains. The weather forecast claimed it would be “mostly cloudy” in the gorge on Saturday morning when I planned to photograph some of the waterfalls in the gorge. This would have provided ideal light for the occasion. Unfortunately, it was mostly sunny that morning; so I could only photograph waterfalls during the first few hours of the morning, when the falls were still in shade. I had time to photograph only four waterfalls. Before all that I did manage to have time to capture a bit of a sunrise:

Since I’m not all that familiar with the Columbia River Gorge, I didn’t know where the best place was to capture a sunrise late in May, so the above was the best I could do on the spur of the moment.

The four waterfalls I photographed were Multnomah Falls, Wahkeena Falls, Horsetail Falls, and Ponytail Falls. In the spring, these waterfalls are running at full blast, which is all to the good — except that with so much water flowing out of them, a bit of a breeze is stirred up around them, causing nearby foliage to dance like crazy. So in many of the following images, I had to push to ISO and shutter speeds much higher than I really wanted to go. I was not able to use a polarizer filter to improve rendering of the foliage or get the smooth flow look of the waterfalls favored by some photographers. You can see the problem in the following shot, where the leafy foliage in the corner is all blurred from motion:

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This is something to be aware of when photographing these waterfalls in spring. Movement of foliage will force higher shutter speeds, higher ISO, and faster apertures.

Let’s start with a couple of images from Wahkeena Falls, which is just west of the more famous Multnomah Falls:

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Next we have the most famous waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge, Multnomah. This is also the second highest waterfall in the United States (behind Yosemite Falls):

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Next a trio of Horsetail Falls:

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About a half mile up the creek from Horsetail Falls is Ponytail Falls:

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And here’s one last parting look at the Columbia River:

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