A Photo Tour of North Carolina Waterfalls
One of the best places to find stunning waterfalls to photograph is in the Great Smoky Mountains. They are located around Asheville in North Carolina.
The area surrounds the southern part of the 400-mile long Blue Ridge Parkway in the western part of the state. It’s here around Transylvania County that you’ll find so many beautiful waterfalls.
Planning a visit to this part of the world at any time is well worth it. And, being here for the fall colors makes it all the more amazing. Unfortunately, the maple trees had not turned their usual red. However, they remained yellow for longer which was a bonus.
So, this is where to come if you want stunning waterfall photography!
Equipment for Waterfall Photography
There is mixed opinion whether waterfalls should be captured naturally or with a certain amount of blur. Personally, I like to see some blur which gives the impression of movement and softness.
A sturdy tripod is paramount to achieve the desired effect, as shutter speeds will be in excess of 1/50 sec. At this speed hand-holding the camera is out of the question.
I found interesting differences in softness when using anything from 1/50th up to 2 secs. You can, of course, decrease the shutter speed by as much as you like. But, you’ll have to watch your exposure to avoid blowing out your highlights.
Slower shutter speeds can lead to overexposure. To combat this, you’ll need to use neutral density filters – as well as a UV and polarizing filter, depending on how bright the shooting conditions are.
Use of a polarizer is advisable when shooting any composition with water to help avoid any glare. This will block 1.5 stops of light which will greatly help.
Tip: I recommend you have both a UV and polarizer filter attached to your lens most of the time.
Filters to Have to Hand
– UV filter
– Polarizer filter
A set of ND filters comprising of the following:
– ND2 filter = reduces the light by 1 stop
– ND4 filter = reduces the light by 2 stops
– ND8 filter = reduces the light by 3 stops
Even a 10 stop ND – Big Stopper (for the pros) will help with really long exposures.
Useful Mobile Apps for Exposure Adjustment when using ND filters:
– ND Exposure Calculator
– Long Exposure Calculator
Linville Falls was the only waterfall not visited on this particular trip. November 2010 was the only time we were at Linville before the days of owning a DSLR camera.
Personnel at the visitor center explained that in the past the falls were used by local Native Americans to execute prisoners.
The start of our waterfall trip in the fall of 2017
Before arriving in Asheville, we headed up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Pisgah National Forest. Weather conditions were overcast but ideal for creating vivid images of waterfalls.
Parking is available just off the road and a 3/4 mile walk to the falls and back was our first destination. This was our chance to start shooting the heavily flowing falls – in the rain!
Shooting with slow shutter speeds – to capture water blur, is not easy in adverse conditions. As the rocks and foliage were strikingly vivid this was a great opportunity not to miss – rain or no rain!
There’s a small footbridge crossing the river 50 yards or so below the falls. If you’re not alone (after setting up your tripod on it), beware of people walking across causing everything to shake! I was fortunate enough to be there alone much of the time, so only had to contend with the dampness and occasional hiker.
The summer of 2017 experienced excessive rainfall in the area and Crabtree was in full flow. These falls are strikingly beautiful and it’s no wonder that bears and their cubs frequent the base of the falls regularly.
I got a load of images and enjoyed this great location, coming away with plenty of memories.
Losing the light in the early afternoon due to overcast weather and low cloud, we had to leave the area and exit the Parkway altogether for safety.
Continuing our drive we arrived in the town of Asheville and based ourselves here for two nights while we acquainted ourselves with the immediate area.
The next day, in Asheville, we had a tour booked to visit the famous Biltmore House just south of the town. This extraordinary estate was built by George Washington Vanderbilt II in 1930 and is still regarded as the largest private house in America. An attraction well worth taking a look at.
This waterfall south of Asheville is located near Brevard, and as its name suggests visitors can slide all the way down the waterfall and into the plunge pool below.
Moore Cove Falls
Getting to this waterfall took a moderate hike of just under a mile. Visitors are able to walk behind the delicate flow of the falls which means that is is not always straight forward getting that slow shutter speed shot without interruption.
Moore Cove Falls are higher than they look and stand between 50 and 75-feet in height. They are dangerous, as all waterfalls are, but Moore Cove has claimed the lives of two hikers in recent years.
Looking Glass Falls
Another waterfall with a history of injuries and deaths is Looking Glass Falls, so be careful!
Located near the previous two waterfalls, Looking Glass Falls (60 ft high) gets its name from the nearby Looking Glass Rock. In winter time the sides of the rock resemble a mirror of sunlight as the frozen water on it reflects the sun.
This is a popular stop for tourists as it is right on the side of the road (US Highway 276), with steps down to the base of the falls.
Upper Whitewater Falls are impressive as they are viewed from such a distance away. The river, between the two falls, drops 1,500 ft (460 m) over its 3.5 mi (5.6 km) course and crosses the state border. Lower Whitewater Falls is two miles further downstream in South Carolina.
Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls is a few miles northwest of the attractive town of Highlands, North Carolina in the Nantahala National Forest. The old road used to curve behind the falls allowing cars to pass behind it. Due to severe icing on the road in winter, this has now been stopped. Now, a newer road passes by in front of the falls.
Also known as the Upper Cullasaja Falls, Dry Falls is a 65 ft (20 m) waterfall. It’s only a short distance beyond Bridal Veil Falls from the Highlands direction.
People are able to walk behind these falls but you may get a bit wet in the process. This photo shows the falls in full flow as there had been a lot of rain in the preceding months, so we did get wet!
For anyone wanting the ultimate waterfall photographic trip, this is it. The falls are great, the scenery is absolutely stunning and if you visit in the fall, then the colors will be good too.
Have you photographed at any of these locations? If so, please chip in and tell us what you did. Were you interested in any particular waterfall more than others?
We look forward to hearing from you and hearing your story, thanks so much for dropping by!