Behind The Image: Sunset at Swift River Falls

Spring is an incredible time of year to be in Maine. This year it seems to be slow in coming, as we're already in the middle of May and many trees are still bare. But the signs are there, and spring IS coming. One of my favorite parts of spring is the waterfalls. With the spring melt, the rivers, streams, and brooks are flowing fully, engorged with the winter runoff coming from the mountains. I prefer waterfalls in autumn for the brightly colored foliage that decorates them, but often the waterfalls are only trickling at that time, making them less exciting to look at. So every spring, I set out to explore some fully flowing waterfalls.

This past week, I've visited four sets of waterfalls, none of which had I ever seen before. Having mostly been sequestered at home since the middle of March, I've been itching to get out. In March and early April, what's locally known as either "Stick Season" or "Mud Season" are upon us, and neither is all that exciting to photograph, so I stayed home and edited old files for fun. But now that we are starting to see a few buds on trees, it's time to head out.

Using all of my research abilities- i.e. Google, a waterfall guidebook, and Facebook- I found a grouping of waterfalls all within 10 minutes of each other in the Andover, Maine area. I hadn't visited any of them previously, so this would be a scouting trip as well as a photographing trip, in addition to being a day out in nature to save my sanity!

My first stop was at a spot known the Devil's Den, home to Silver Ripple Falls. The falls here basically come through a tight gorge, and the angles for photography are difficult. I also had to contend with some exceptionally nice weather. Direct sunlight is terrible for photographing waterfalls. The weather report called for cloudy skies. They turned out to be partly cloudy, so I played a game of "There's a cloud, will that one block the sun for a moment?" so I could get softer light on the falls. I spent quite a bit of time waiting and watching the sky, but I was able to snap a few shots. After that, I headed to Ellis Falls. Ellis Falls is a quick roadside stop where you get out of the car and the falls are 20 feet away. Unfortunately, the sun didn't cooperate and the trees were still mostly bare, so it wasn't as photogenic as I'd like.

My last stop was a waterfall I must've passed two dozen times in the last three years, and never knew they were there. Swift River Falls in Roxbury, Maine, is an 8-foot tall cascade that is as notable for the unique rock formations as it is for the falls themselves. The rock formations are carved in these smooth curves that from a distance make them look like a sea sponge. The tops of the rocks have potholes that look as if a giant stuck his fingers in them, the way a child would stick his fingers in wet sand. They are truly beautiful.

I arrived at Swift River Falls at 5pm. A quick scramble around the rocks allowed me to choose a few spots to shoot from and I got to work. I hadn't intended to stay as long as I did, but when I saw the way the sky was starting to look, I stuck around to allow the sun to descend lower in the sky. The later it got, the more warm orange crept into the sky's coloring. I chose a low point of view- my waterproof boots and tripod were getting wet in the river as I sat on a rock and composed my shot. I used a Benro 4-stop, soft-edged graduated neutral density filter to help balance the sky with the foreground, and a slightly long exposure to allow the water to blur slightly.

The day turned out to be just what I needed, and finished on a high note with this sunset image. Springtime is here.